Sea Level “Sea Level/Long Walk on a Short Pier” (2 LP’s on 1 CD) www.RealGoneMusic.com
Keyboardist Chuck Leavell organized Sea Level as a quartet in 1976 after the Allman Brothers Band’s first breakup of their post Duane Allman era. Sea Level’s bassist Lamar Williams and percussionist/drummer Jaimoe were also Brothers giving Leavell’s band a somewhat similar ABB sound. But the first Sea Level edition was less Bluesy, more jazz oriented possessing a delightfully airy and unique blend of Jazzy Rock music. The only unrelated Amman Brother was guitarist Jimmy Nalls who had been Alex Taylor’s band with none other than Leavell. An incestuous bunch; all having musical connections in and around the Capricorn Record label and the Allman Brothers Band. Their 1977 Capricorn Records debut signaled a fresh path for these related souls starting with Leavell’s opening (6:47) instrumental “Rain in Spain” jumps out of the speakers brimming with bright ideas and spontaneous interplay and solos from Leavell and Nalls. Ed Hoerner’s funky “Shake a Leg” follows nicely with uncredited horns that also feature well-placed acapella vocal segment. Leavell’s second instrumental passage is the inventive “Tidal Wave” becomes fiery especially when Nalls leaps in with heady offshore guitar bursts. Leavell’s “Country Fool” is Allman Brothers reminiscent with its swampy and upbeat Blues swagger with Dickey Betts like slide guitar playing from Nalls. Neil Larsen’s (formerly of the Full Moon band with Buzzy Feiten) “Grand Larceny” is another charmer that allows Leavell to show-off his B3 chops and features nice back and forth solos with Nalls, the rhythm section really sparkles too. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” is driven to new territories as an instrumental cover that illustrates Leavell’s acoustic piano subtleties. The self-titled Sea Level debut album concludes with Leavell’s stutter and stop instrumental “Just a Good Feeling,” which is fun way to conclude their inauguration.
Real Gone Music had previously released (as two LP’s on one CD) Sea Level’s second and third album; “Cats on the Coast, and “On the Edge.” Concluding this (two LP’s on One CD) jaunt is Sea Level’s fourth release “Long Walk On a Short Pier” which was their last album for Capricorn recorded in Macon, GA, their first without producer Stewart Levine, and their next to last recording as the Sea Level Band. Complications between the Sea Level and Capricorn Records meant it was never released in the USA but somehow was available in Canada. Plus (as previously mentioned) producer Stewart Levine was no longer involved; and Sea Level became self-producers. Clearly Levine’s loss was considerable and the band suffered in the studio. That being said 1979’s “Long Walk on a Short Pier” featured a different (five-piece quintet lineup) with guitarist Dave Causey, Randall Bramblett’s sax, keyboards and vocals, Joe English’ drumming, leaving Lamar Williams and Chuck Leavell as the only original Sea Level band members. The album opens with Leavell’s soulful and thumping “Tear Down this Wall” complete with a tight knit (and credited) horn section that included The Crescent City sax greats Charlie Brent and Jon Smith. * Note: These horns charts were recorded and arranged separately at Sea Saint Studios in New Orleans by Brent and Smith. The new guys Bramblett and Causey authored the rocking “Canine Man” and is unlike anything Sea Level had previously recorded, and that’s not a good thing. Leavell’s “My Love” sounds like movie soundtrack music, also not good. Give the bass player some: Lamar Williams’ instrumental “Just a Touch” punches and jabs like the original Sea Level group leaving solo spaces for Leavell, Causey and Lamar’s hip basslines that are mildly reminiscent of his bass-work with the Allmans’. The next three tracks reunite Bramblett and Causey as songwriters one with Sea Levels’ original guitarist Jimmy Nalls, unfortunately none of these three tunes are particularly memorable. On Wendy Waller’s and George Weavers’ “Too Many Broken Hearts” finds the band sounding like just an ordinary rock and roll band. The finale is Jimmy Nalls’ “Twenty Miles from Nowhere” a pretty cool instrumental that feels like familiar ground for the band especially Leavell. This last tune is sort of interesting in that it was authored by the departed guitarist Nalls’ who receives his second songwriting credit on this peculiar recording.
I could offer several rationalizations as to what happened to Sea Level? Their debut was intriguing and was borderline groundbreaking. But three years later “Long Walk on a Short Pier” showcased a group that had lost its way along with its bubbling creativity. Their downturn can be partially attributed by their personnel changes, and losing Stewart Levine as their producer and probable spiritual leader. In 1976/77 Sea Level’s future looked so bright, but in the long run even the best of bands cannot keep their creative juices flowing, my guess is that’s what probably happened to these guys. They did go onto recording their swansong “Ball Room” for BMG, and even brought back guitarist Jimmy Nalls, but their creativity had evaporated, kind of sad. Thankfully (and because of Real Gone’s reissue efforts) we have Sea Levels’ complete (and mostly magical) four-album Capricorn catalog on just two CD’s. Now that’s a very good thing. Enjoy.
For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal with his Sounds of Blue radio show. Hear new Homegrown Sounds of Blue internet radio shows: http://soundsofblue.com/radioshowsmp3.htm
Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune www.YonkersTribune.com & www.MakingAScene.org Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com