Denya LeVine, |
Shadow of a Rose
"Cape Cod girls don't own no combs, they comb their hair with codfish bones." So goes the verse to an old New England folk song. Ah, but despite the lack of frills, every year Cape Cod is visited by thousands of tourists who want to see the striking natural beauty of its dunes, its sparse scrub pines and marshes, it's ocean views and wild winds. It can be a soulful and solitary place -- or footloose and vibrant with people of alternative lifestyles and eclectic tastes. In these brushstrokes, oddly enough, we find painted, too, the album Denya LeVine, 20 years a Cape Cod resident, has sketched out after more than two decades of professional musicianship in and around Massachusetts.
She is Cape Cod's foremost Irish fiddler and equally at home playing jigs and reels or good old hippie songs with political themes. Throw in a few klezmer melodies and you've got a CD that's somewhat of a chowder, fit for a cold night on the outermost tip of the Cape.
What all of this does not tell you is about her devotion to Irish music and how she studied in Ireland with masters, whether in pub or porch, city or farm. Many's the local sessiun of Celtic music where she has wowed audiences firing off the spirited jig or reel, delighting the most accomplished players there. It doesn't tell you that she studied from sunup 'til sundown with an Afghan flute master earlier in her career. Or that she is one of those few rare individuals who make a living from playing music day after day each day of the year, not just on Saturday night.
Those years of practice, listening, seeking out the musicians on rambles in Ireland and constant devotion to her instrument have paid off as evidenced in masterfully evocative versions of "Cooley's Reel," "The Rakes of Mallow" and "The Star of Munster."
Denya LeVine is a musician who has not merely paid her dues, but her respects to every tradition and genre of music she has approached. She recites "The Tinkerman's Daughter" by Mickey McConnell in her deep, rich, resonant and low Eastern European voice. A plaintiff uilleann pipe played by Rich Danforth wails in the background. Yet she is versatile enough to move over to "(See You in) Cuba," a swingy little Irving Berlin prohibition tune that is quaint and charming at this point in history, not merely for its reference to an era gone by, but, now for two eras; the other one being the early days of the Boston folk scene. One might imagine the tune to have been done by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band or another Aquarian Renaissance effort, paying homage to its predecessors.
Yes, there's quite a bit of the inveterate hippie in every good sense of the word, not merely in the music but in Denya, a devout vegetarian and espouser of worthy social causes, active in her community wherever she may be. And as an aside, God bless her for putting this tune back before the public. It's a real winner you'll be humming on your way to work. People may ask, "What's up, you goin' to Cuba or something?" after your 40th magnificent version on your way to the breakroom.
No review of this CD would be complete without mention of "The Wellfleet Oyster Song," a Stephen Russell and Elaine McIlroy tune singing the praises of a town reknowned for its oysters, the first banana importer in the country and a beach where Guglielmo Marconi broadcast a radio signal to Europe. In the quaint, campy, kitschy '30s sensibility sort of way, Denya captures that string band swing band feeling, like a Dust Bowl-era street busker both in this number and on "Cuba."
Notably the best tune on the album for its skillful execution is "Ash Grove" followed by "Planxty Hewlitt," two perennial favorites of Irish trad players, which Denya renders in fine form.
The music is simple, sparse and solitary, like the scrub pines and beaches, the marshes and rock jetties of Cape Cod. But that's the way traditional music is, isn't it? Think of all the field recordings of Alan Lomax with a single voice grinding out a seldom-heard melody, preserving a grand tradition and keeping it in memory for future generations. This, too, is LeVine's soulful homage.
Even the cover art is indicative of what lies within both the CD and the heart of the woman herself. On the front, a girl become woman still wearing a flower in her hair, is seated in a sawgrass meadow. On the back, the same woman, barefoot, ankle bracelet and long print dress, fiddle in hand, standing on a rock by the ocean, looking across the sea. Is it in Ireland looking to the Cape, or on Cape Cod looking to Ireland and beyond to Europe? In this, her profound first venture, she looks in both these directions for music that she adores, words she admires. Those two bare feet stand on one rock, but somehow straddle that ocean. And that is how big is the music and soul of Denya LeVine on Shadow of a Rose.