Great guitar players aren't always known for their restraint as evidenced by the big technical and bombastic solos they often deliver. No argument - those solos are great. Even more impressive, though, is a player who possesses those considerable skills, but who instead opts to channel that ability and energy into the creative process. Duke Levine is one such artist - an accomplished guitar player who seemingly prefers creating tuneful and melodic music to showcasing chops.
Levine is perhaps best known for his work backing some big names like Peter Wolf, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rosanne Cash. But as his all-instrumental album "The Fade Out" proves, he also deserves praise for his solo work.
A master of the Fender Telecaster, Levine makes great use of that specific guitar's greatest attribute - the ability to produce both warm/smooth and lively/clear tone. Those dueling tonal characteristics are the foundation of this mood-driven collection.
Although not a concept album, "The Fade Out" has the overall feel of a quiet morning. It is subdued, but not in a melancholy way. The opening track "Neptune," with its delicate interplay of Kevin Berry's muted pedal steel lines and Levine's meandering Telecaster licks, is the soundtrack of someone waking up and settling into the day.
With "Anna," Levine takes the listener to a morning at the beach. He masterfully converts an R&B song written and recorded by Arthur Alexander in 1962, which was then recorded by The Beatles a year later for their "Please Please Me" album, into one of the most chill surf rock songs ever. Levine does this by combining his languid and twangy lead lines with Kenny White's staccato organ accents - ultimately producing a track that is the audio equivalent of the morning bloody mary hangover cure.
The theme is carried again on "Maddie's Song," the most somber and contemplative track.
Not everything here has the same morning feel. On "Sam Brown Hill," Levine opts for Octave Mandolin as his primary instrument, which results in a memorable melody that subtly nods toward traditional folk or bluegrass influences. With "Love & Peace," Levine puts together a nice arrangement that again leans heavily on guitar and organ, but this time the combination is in service of the blues.
Levine's instrumental prowess and the variety of songs make "The Fade Out" an ultimately enjoyable and interesting listen.