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Ben Levin - Carryout or DeliveryCARRYOUT OR DELIVERY
Vizztone 2020

By Michael Higgins

THREE CDs DEEP and Ben Levin can finally savor a shot of Maker's Mark on the "up and up".

Saying that seems surreal. Even B.B. King didn't record his first record until he was 24. But like a smooth cross river Kentucky bourbon, the 21 year-old Cincinnati pianist has aged well.

CARRYOUT OR DELIVERY is both what it seems and what it isn't. As the title suggests, it serves up Covid inspired blues, but it also sports a healthy platter of straight piano boogie, bluesy ballads and tight covers. Mix in Ben's first B-3 organ foray, and CARRYOUT is not only adventurous and diverse, it's his most mature effort yet.

Bucking his two past CDs, this one starts off with seven straight originals. "You Know" barrels forward with Henry Gray like fervor and toned advice. But "Stuck" breaks the early Covid quarantine down to a true musical loop -- dead end frustration with no place to go. "Too Good For Me" laments fading love with nice keyboards. But the title track replenishes the mood with friskiness. Sporting Willie Dixon Big Three Trio like harmonies, it's a double-entendre tease, slyly seductive in every sense of the word.

"Have You Lost Your Mind" and "Some Other Time" are both good pieces, showcasing Ben's growing songwriting skills. Backed by his hometown core of dad Aron on guitar, Chris Douglas on bass and Oscar Bernal on drums, their sympathetic playing helps both songs shine. Meanwhile, "Nola Night" shimmies with some New Orleans styled calypso. A true Levin instrumental, the entire band fills the dance floor in style. Though not dedicated to BrewRiver Creole Kitchen, it has a similar feel to 2019's "Creole Kitchen". The tasty Queen City nightspot was where Ben got his first live gig at age 14.

From there Ben rolls out four cover songs plus one more original. "Papercut", co-written with dad Aron, lilts along like a Fats Domino slow dance, though the lyrics carry deceptively sharp pain. Speaking of sharp, the covers are too. The Frank Frost classic "My Back Scratcher" is both funky and thick, shuffling with B-3 savvy. "The Buzzard", a hard to find 1960's instrumental by Freddy Robinson and Paul Hankins is a nugget of guitar/organ genius too.

Ben absolutely nails "Hadacol Bounce". A hoc ad song recorded by Professor Longhair in 1949, Hadacol put a bounce in many a stride back in the day. The tonic claimed to cure several ills, though it's true genius was how it legally sold it's 12 percent alcohol content on the shelves of "dry counties" throughout the deep South.

Finally (and fittingly), the CD ends with "Time Brings About A Change". A melancholy 1950's blues by Texas piano master Floyd Dixon, the life maturing ballad perfectly echoes the continued progression of Levin's own sounds.

It should come as no surprise that Ben Levin's blues have gained greater national kudos. Unlike some of the rock-blues that seemingly clutters up today's blues charts, Ben's sound and approach resolutely respects the genre's true roots. The fact that he has eight originals on CARRYOUT OR DELIVERY is another solid reason too.

If you love blues and are looking to finally break through a pandemic, the door is open. Carryout Or Delivery is certainly available, but feel free to dine in too.


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