"Ben Levin is the purest evidence that great things happen when you mix hard work, magic, love and music." - Brian Baker, CityBeat
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.
by Jim Hynes
This young college student sounds so good playing the rollicking piano and singing like a veteran that it would be impossible for the uninformed listener to guess that Ben Levin is still not of legal drinking age. Not only that, this is his second album—having received two Blues Blast Music Awards for his first one. You may be thinking we might have the second coming of Harry Connick, Jr. but pianist/vocalist Levin does not lean to pop or schmooze. He’s all about authentic blues, and on this release has surrounded himself with “old school” type players throughout: guitarist Bob Margolin on seven tracks, harp ace Bob Corritore on six tracks and Cincinnati King Records legendary drummer Philip Paul on two.
Half of the material is originals and half is vintage covers. Levin’s relaxed vocals and thoughtful, never-rushed piano style imbue his own title track “Before Me,” which carries with a Fats Domino vibe and, as such, is a tribute to the NOLA piano tradition. He’s got the Chicago sound down, too, as evidenced by his boogie-woogie take on the opener, Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good,” and James Cotton’s “Lightnin’,”—helped, of course, by veterans of that style, Margolin and Corritore. Kansas City blues style is represented in Jay McShann’s “Confessin’ the Blues.”
Levin is not the only vocalist; Kennedy McPherson takes a turn on the Levin tune “Pappy” and Chris Douglas and Mel Hatch Douglas sing on the standout track “Lonesome Whistle Blues,” one of two that features drummer Philip Paul. Paul himself hails from Levin’s hometown of Cincinnati, and recorded the tune with Freddie King several decades ago. Paul also plays on the Levin original, the shuffling “Load Off My Back,” (“everything’s right on track”), inspired by another of the early King Records tunes. Levin says, “At 93 years old, there is a 75-year difference in age between us, yet we are still able to lock in. It shows the music is alive, not just a stack of old records in the corner of your room.”
It’s remarkable to consider that Levin logged in time in back room clubs or juke joints while developing his sound. He’s obviously both an astute listener and a blues natural. Levin’s loose effusive style proves irresistible on the old chestnut “I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya” with Corritore and Margolin soloing, as well as they both do on the slow-burning instrumental closer, “Open Late", which they helped write.
Make no mistake, Ben Levin, the innocent-looking youngster brings the real stuff.