"Ben Levin is the purest evidence that great things happen when you mix hard work, magic, love and music." - Brian Baker, CityBeat
Just over a year ago I reviewed Ben Levin’s last album, Carryout Or Delivery, and I said that there was plenty more to come from this young man. He’s only 21 and this is his 4th album, the second for VizzTone, and boy has he brought more to the table already. The 4 covers and 8 originals that make up Still Here enhance his growing reputation as one of the best young Blues pianists around at the moment. He opens with the Jules Bihari and Frank Szabo written Love And Friendship, a shuffling Fats Domino style, mid pace Boogie with slick guitar from Ben’s father and often song writing companion, Aron. Ben’s playing is superlative and still only going to get even better considering his age. His voice has matured since the last album and he has a newfound strength to his tone. We go slow for the title track and on this Blues his influences come out further. This time its Otis Spann. His piano and Aron’s guitar play off of each other on their composition and the funereal pace of the song is counterbalanced by the flurry of notes from both. So much talent in one still so young. It’s not often that you get a father and son song writing team but there’s a warmth that comes through the music that they write together. He’s a seasoned performer already and on That’s The Meal he sounds like an artist that has had double the releases. Another co-written with his father, it strolls along very well and it feels as if he’s sitting down having a chat with you. Very comfortable. The up-tempo Swing Blues of Joe Liggins’ I Can’t Stop It confirms his love of old school Blues, R&R and all things from the golden age. Everything about Ben from the music to the album cover to the way he dresses is old school and he does it so well. Call and response chorus, rocking piano, a rhythm section keeping up the beat and guitar slipping in a little bit of ‘Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me’ for good measure. All good. A return to the slower pace beckons and the shuffling Bad Idea, written by Ben alone this time, is a warning to stay away from payday loans. His rolling piano played over a straight 12 bar guitar rhythm is more than effective and the sweeping flourish in the guitar solo is divine. There’s no comment from this married man on the title, Please let Me Get One Word In. It’s back to the father son writing partnership as slide guitar compliments the sharp piano this time. He again sounds beyond his years on another Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis influenced track with some of the notes towards the end coming down like raindrops.
The strolling, rhythmic Kissing At Midnight, a Billy Boy Arnold and Sylvester Thompson song leads us into Crown Jewel 2, a guitar led instrumental. Aron’s piercing notes are pinging out as Ben takes a bit of a back seat. However, this is a tour de force and TV and movie producers should be on the phone now for their next project. The reflective slow Blues of Christmas Rain is highlighted by Aron’s staccato guitar and from the title I guess they’ve been to Scotland. Professor Longhair comes out in the New Orleans Blues of Her Older Brother and this is another example of how Ben manages to get an intimate feel into his delivery and adds that warmth to the whole experience. The final cover is a rousing version of Memphis Slim’s Wonder What’s The Matter. Its exuberant, energetic playing is matched by his vocal and makes it a stand out on an album of very good songs. I’m Your Essential Worker wraps things up and is a nod to those who carried us through the pandemic but I’m also picking up a little innuendo as found on many other Blues songs, or maybe that’s just me. It’s just Ben and his superb rolling piano with a little assistance from the bass. A class act.
I said in my review of Carryout or Delivery that he was a star of the future but forget that, he is a star now!
Paris-Move, Blues Magazine(Translated)
By Patrick Dallongeville
News from the Cincinnati prodigy! His 21 years barely sounded, the pianist and singer who panics the stages (as well as the critics) around the world confined himself for four days last June (at the peak of the pandemic in the USA) with his father of guitarist and his section rhythm, in a studio in Newport. And this new album by Ben Levin (his third in four years) completes its establishment in the firmament of a blues scene that never ceases to celebrate its own heritage. That he pays homage to Henry Gray and Howlin 'Wolf (the delicious “Stuck”, and “Have You Lost Your Mind?” Where his father splits into a nasty guitar chorus), to Ray Charles and Charles Brown (Papercut ”,“ Time Brings About A Change ”,“ Too Good For Me ”on electric piano, or the instrumental“ The Buzzard ”on organ, with other nasty lines from daddy Aron's six strings), up to Jay McShann, Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris (the jubilant titular beach, with its proto doo-wop choirs, and “Hadacol Bounce”), which he borrows from Doc Pomus the Brill Building touch that made the heyday of the Drifters by Ben E. King (by signing here the well titled “Some Other Time”, which one would swear recorded at the very beginning of the sixties), or that he resuscitates the rumba madness of the late Professor Longhair (“Nola Night”), or adapts Frank Frost's funky “My Back Scratcher” to the Hammond B3, the kid confirms here from start to finish what his modesty tries to deny in vain.
The production, however sober it remains, is no less as brilliant as it is luminous, as required by the chosen register. Do not listen to the jealous people who accuse him of being just another young person playing old man's music: now, Ben Levin no longer just embodies the next generation, he is the new boss.