As front man and primary songwriter for The Honeydogs, Adam Levy has carved out an understated but sturdy spot as one of America’s best kept songwriting secrets. We live in diffuse times and the frantic pace of modern life means we often can’t hear their voices above the growing din, but songwriters like Levy are still important threads in the fabric of our lives. Levy’s first solo album, Naubinway, doesn’t purport to be an All Things Must Pass outpouring from a neglected voice set free under his own imprimatur. This collection aspires to intimacy and achieves it handily – the album’s low-fi approach has a live on the floor quality and sparkles with such clarity that it isn’t difficult imagining Levy playing mere feet away.
“Take It as It Comes” starts things off in a decidedly low-key fashion and Levy powerfully invokes the lyric’s mood with hushed, almost mournful sensitivity. The album hits its first of many musical peaks with “Potter’s Field” thanks in part to Levy’s outstanding guitar work, but the vocal melody and lyrical content once again help push this song over the top. Levy retreats from his folk template on the highbrow pop confection “Atoms Never Die”, but Levy indulging his love for stylish pop surfaces doesn’t impede his ability to fill the song with the same substantive value of his more nominally “basic” tunes. The verses of “When Your Well Runs Dry” are a little sleepy, but payoff comes for listeners with an enormous chorus elevating the track several notches in an eye blink. Levy’s talents for melody are significant and tasteful – his Beatles-esque reaching in this track hits its mark with appealing ease.
“How I Let You Down” will disarm many listeners with its musical beauty and Levy’s deeply vulnerable delivery, but its perhaps the album’s most powerful moment as his songwriting lulls people into the dark heart of his private pain. Everything is here. Regret, resentment, and enduring love swirl through the lyrics and Levy doesn’t shy away from giving full-throated expression to those emotions. “Pitch Black Path” has an appealing musical swing and a nice, relaxed tempo that, nonetheless, pushes steadily towards its inevitable conclusion. The piano and ambient introduction to “Eucatastrophe” neatly segues into a rolling acoustic track punctuated with organ swells, but perhaps its most remarkable quality is immediacy. Each instrument seems closely miked and plays mere centimeters from the listener’s ear. The lyrics pile imagery on, but Levy’s consistent writing ties everything into a coherent thematic whole.
There peaceful sway of “I Wish You Well” invokes traditional country with its lyrical steel guitar lines, but the effect is never overdone. One certainly can’t ascribe this sort of melodic richness and lyrical complexity to modern mainstream country, but Levy’s music pours old wine into new bottles in a highly entertaining way. “Handful of Sand” has a nice waltz sway and moves so well thanks to its attentive drumming. The alt-country flavor returns in this track but, like its predecessor, never stress its influences to the detriment of the song. Levy finishes off the album with its title track, a solo acoustic performance. The melody is rather straight-forward and unvarying in a way few of the album’s melodies are, but the performance is much more centered on Levy’s voice and lyrical content. His singing gives the content the air of goodbye without ever while nevertheless remaining free of melodrama.
Naubinway is a rare bird – a stunning musical work with substantial literary merit. Levy’s talents are various. He’s a consummate guitarist with technique to spare, an underrated singer, and lyricist with countless surprising turns. If meaningful music from first rate talents means something to you, this is a must have.