Carryout or Delivery
This young college student (yes, he’s still in college three albums later) sounds so good playing the rollicking piano and singing like a veteran that it would be impossible for the uninformed listener to guess that Ben Levin has just reached legal drinking age. Having received two Blues Blast Music Awards for his first one and much acclaim for his second, for Carryout or Delivery Levin eschews the major name guests and instead enlists his family and friends. His father/regular bandmate Aron Levin plays guitar and sings on the title track along with presumably his brother, Josh Levin, and Howard Cohen and Matt Hueneman. Chris Douglass (bass) and Oscar Bernal (drums/percussion) comprise the rhythm section. Ben Levin plays piano, organ, electric piano and takes the lead vocals.
Eight of the dozen are originals and four are vintage covers. Levin’s relaxed vocals and thoughtful, never-rushed piano style kick it off with “You Know,” which carries a ‘50s boogie-woogie vibe. “Stuck” is the kind of juke joint piano one might associate with Roosevelt Sykes. He then proves he’s got the slowing burning Otis Spann Chicago style down on “Too Good For Me,” opting for the electric piano to give it a different resonance. The four-part vocal harmonies on the title track make for a charming listen even though he’s obviously singing with the pandemic in mind. It’s a ‘30s kind of sound, reminiscent to this writer of the work of Paul Burch, who specializes in this kind of retro material.
“Have You Lost Your Mind?” is a standard blues with guitar and Levin doubling on electric piano and organ. Levin is focused on the song, keeping his solos economical in true old school fashion, rarely flashy and instead going for feel. “Some Other Time” is a gently flowing ballad with Ben again at the electric piano while the drum rolls leading into “Nola Night” set the stage for his mastery of NOLA piano, an instrumental similar to ones we’ve heard on his previous efforts.
The back third of the album is mostly covers except for his own “Papercut,” drawn in style directly from the Bartholomew/Fats Domino songbook. The organ driven “My Back Scratcher” shows his funky side while the instrumental “The Buzzard” gives plenty of space to his dad’s guitar as Ben dialogues with him on the bluesy B3. “Hadacol Bounce” is another throw-back, the kind of tune you might hear at one of those Friday night fish fries in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The closing “Time Brings About A Change” is a forward-looking ballad, ostensibly a love song, but perhaps a view toward the other side of the pandemic too. In any case, we have this young prodigy who echoes so many of the great pianists of the past. We have no idea what kind of a student he is but based on his adept grip of these various piano styles where he clearly has As, it would not surprising to see him at the top of his class.
Make no mistake, Ben Levin, the innocent-looking youngster, brings the real stuff and makes you feel it too.
- Jim Hynes