Music Review

Bill Leverty – Deep South

Bill Leverty is the guitarist in the formerly hairy hard rock band FireHouse.  Before you get the wrong idea, I am not a fan of FireHouse in any way and was thus very apprehensive about further listening to or reviewing Bill’s 3rd solo album, Deep South.  In all honesty, I’d put the CD on and gave it a spin before I knew who this Bill Leverty guy was.  As I was marveling at this odd, left field collection of cover tunes, I looked Leverty up online and had to fight an urge to put something that I was more familiar with on in its stead.  But I can’t deny it anymore.  This CD is solid throughout and Bill is a complete master of a wide variety of guitar styles.  I challenge any of visitors to put aside any preconceived notions and also give Deep South a listen.  You’re likely to be as intrigued as I was following the first few bars of track one.

Mr. Leverty, a Richmond, Virginia, native had recorded a string of other people’s tunes for what was to become Deep South.  It wasn’t until he was trying to think of a name for the new CD that he realized that these songs were all written in the Southern United States.  The majority of the cuts are well over 100 years old and were passed on through tradition rather than having a copyright.  Bill’s plan was to add a modern spin to the songs and rock out a bit.  Bill played all the instruments and provided all vocals with the exception of harmonica on one cut and female background vocals on another.  Bill’s singing voice is great.  He doesn’t possess a huge range nor does he attempt any metal screamer calisthenics, but he carries just the right amount of smoldering ash and raw emotion in his pipes to demonstrate why he chose the songs that he recorded.  His guitar, however, is the star of Deep South and he uses the freedom from expectation that he wouldn’t enjoy when doing a FireHouse record to get experimental.  Too bad other musicians that tried to hop aboard the hairspray wagon as it pulled out of town didn’t also just get down to the business of playing real music in their own style.

That opening track, the one that pulled me right in, is “Trouble So Hard.”  This is the same slavery lament that Moby recorded on his Natural Blues album, but Leverty layers excellent percussion and heavy, bluesy guitar parts with crisp, crunchy distortion and liberal use of wah wah pedal to produce something that actually makes you feel the pain of the song’s protagonist.  Further, Bill has the bass guitar right up there in the mix which is another great method of making the listener feel the music rather than just hear it.  I could probably listen to this song all day and not get tired of it.  From the gloomy synth lurking in the distance to the pick scrape leading me into the chorus, this song is top notch.

So, the closet Deadhead hiding inside me got really curious at Bill’s take on a couple of songs that Jerry Garcia and the gang regularly performed on their perpetual tour.  “Samson and Delilah” and “Rain and Snow” are both also present here in versions unlike any I’ve ever heard.  Where the Dead relied on the Hart/Kreutzmann drum combo to transform the tale of the Bible hero, Leverty takes his approach via a surging batch of power chords.  “Rain and Snow” (also known as “Cold Rain and Snow”) actually sounds much more like what was originally conceived several decades ago, as Leverty takes the country-bluegrass route in his interpretation.  The song is infinitely better with his acoustic guitar and mandolin than with Pigpen’s noodly organ and The Dead fighting their way through a speedy acid trip.

Other highlights on the disc include a killer rendition of the modern bluegrass masterpiece, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott’s “Walk Beside Me” and an upgrade of the Percy Mayfield-penned, Ray Charles-recorded “Hit The Road Jack.”  These songs give Leverty a chance to show off the diverse influences impacting his playing style.  His mandolin picking and acoustic guitar tone on “Walk” again make for a song that I could program on REPEAT for several hours.  While “Jack” finds him seated at the piano and also programming his synthesizers for some elemental horn bursts.  The guitar solo that he lays down on this song is pure genius while the piano solo on the song’s fade is also rather impressive.

Bill Leverty is unlikely to give up his day job in FireHouse, because, well, it pays the bills, doesn’t it?  But, I’ll tell you, a cousin of mine had someone sing FireHouse’s “Love of a Lifetime” at her (first) wedding.  Just like that marriage didn’t last; FireHouse’s music isn’t going to stand the test of time either.  When Leverty gets interested in creating some truly timeless music, whether someone else wrote the songs or not, he could easily pitch his case of hairspray in the garbage bin and start putting out more records like Deep South.  He might be surprised what directions his career would take him.

– Mark Polzin

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