Vermont native singer/songwriter Justin Levinson is on a roll, and he’s rocking hard.
His third album, featuring his band The Valcours, is quick to get stuck in your head and even quicker to cause reflection on every single one of your past relationships in a shockingly positive way for an album so somber.
The first track, “Water Wears the Rock,” sets the stage for an album full of deeply metaphorical writing and a sinking sense that heartbreak doesn’t have a cure.
Cleverly crafted electronic drumbeats introduce the track, and Levinson’s piano falls in with the beat soon after. His raw-sounding voice accompanied by his sharp-as-glass lyrics blend with a pop sound in the instrumentation that will catch anyone’s attention.
Finally, a goose bump raising harmony enters the mix, hooks the listener and reels him in with no escape.
“You Became a Ghost” follows the kick-off track with an equally driving beat and eeriness consistent with the track title. The cutting lyrics balance with UVM English professor Sean Witters’ smooth, energetic guitar leads, and the celebrated Simon Plumpton drives it home on drums that run through the track right up to the harshly sudden ending.
Not letting a weak song break his listener’s trance, Levinson somehow manages to trump the first two tracks with the third. “Love You Goodbye,” featuring local singer/songwriter and production artist Gregory Douglass, opens with the most image-provoking lyrics yet: “Flood gates have opened wide, the ticking clock is out of time. I’ve come undone, lost your love. I don’t wanna die alone.”
Douglass’ distinctive production style comes through on this track in his unique drum sequencing, while Levinson slips in some sarcastic humor that lets the listener crack a smile for a few phrases as Douglass’ vocal harmony falls into place. The smile lasts through the words “I love you,” before he pauses to sing “Goodbye,” and the beat drops in with distorted guitar and a driving drum line.
Staying consistent, “Let You Go” remains heartbreakingly beautiful and significant – “You’ve gotta tell me that you’re done so I can let you go.” Simple lyrics carry the song, as does Will Dailey’s gentle harmony and album producer Colin McCaffrey’s violin playing.
“Bar Scene” and “I’ll Be Ok” lighten the mood for a little while, followed by “I Was So Wrong,” a lyrically gloomy duet with a heartwarming vocal melody that features Liz Longley.
“Million Tears” takes the listener back to the initial feelings of the album – “Tell me how you wage war with so many broken hearts.” These jagged lyrics, a Beatles-esque vocal melody and illustrious Burlington side musician Joshua Glass’ flawless harmony accompany Witters’ bluesy guitar lines and Levinson’s heavy heart.
“Say What You’re Gonna Say” starts to bring the album home and sends a message similar to that of the other tracks. The “Art of the Album” is clearly not lost on Levinson. Upbeat instrumentation, including a tasteful horn section that gives the track a full sound, accompanies a drumbeat that gives it bounce.
Levinson wraps it all up with “If You’re Happier.” Similar to ADELE’s “Someone Like You,” this track is Levinson’s final pitch: “you had to have your distance […] I will pretend that I don’t give a damn, cause if you’re happier, I guess I’ll understand.” You can’t say goodbye in a much better way than that.
Levinson will celebrate the release of his album at Nectar’s in downtown Burlington on Jan. 7. It will later be for sale on iTunes and CD Baby.