Mara Levine / Digital Tracks Available / Label: Mara's Creations/Independent
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“From the moment the music begins, it is clear that this album is something special. Every note, instrument and harmony is perfectly placed. She explores each song, its intent and intonation, and then sings with soulful elegance. The songs reach down deep, touch your senses and send you on a musical journey through the seasons and life’s passages, both literally and figuratively.” Jeanne Holton Carufel,host - "Acoustic Peace Club," WMNF-FM, Tampa FL
(Cover photo by Michael Cala)
Called “one of the best singers of her generation” by Christine Lavin, folksinger and jewelry designer Mara Levine has been creating beautiful interpretations of fine traditional and contemporary folk songs for many years. She has an ear for both new songs and for classics that can be reshaped to sound fresh and new.
Layering one harmony line on top of another, she creates rich tapestries of sound and emotion. Levine’s version of Bob Franke’s “Straw Against the Chill” with Joe Jencks and her arrangement of Paul Simon’s “Leaves That Are Green” with Gathering Time have been well-received by folk DJs and appear on Jewels and Harmony.
Building on the success of Mara’s Gems, her 2009 debut, Jewels and Harmony features 15 hand-picked songs that reflect changes we experience and some of life’s journeys and passages. The change of seasons, with spring inevitably turning towards winter, mirrors both aging and the disintegration and loss of significant relationships. Other songs touch on yearning for meaningful connections that will endure and on themes of hopefulness, rebirth, the support of friends and partners who stand by us, the joy of making music together, and the healing power of music to soothe and keep us connected.
Levine has drawn her material from popular contemporary songwriters and emerging talents. “When I Sing With You,” a song that Si Kahn wrote for the album features Joe Jencks and Gathering Time on harmony vocals. Kahn also lends his seasoned and expressive voice to Levine’s moving arrangement of Michael Smith's "The Dutchman" as a duet.
Michael Smith praised the recording saying “You and Si sound great together, and the interpretation is honest and sincere and tuneful... the cello and guitar and voices filled the space beautifully. I'm proud to be associated with your work.”
Jewels and Harmony was co-produced by Mara Levine and Bob Harris (Johnny Cash, Girlyman, among others). Harris, who toured with Vassar Clements, plays guitar on 10 of 15 tracks, plus bass, mandolin, and helped with arrangements on several songs.
Artists contributing their talents to this recording: Si Kahn, Brother Sun, Gathering Time, Joe Jencks, Pat Wictor, Cheryl Prashker, Caroline Cutroneo, Shannon Lambert-Ryan(RUNA), Elaine Romanelli, Loretta Hagen, Terry Rivel, Jan Alba, Bill "Rusty" Crowell, Rose Berkowitz, Mark Torres, Bob Wright, Bill Doerge, John Guth, Jeff Scroggins, Tristan Scroggins, Greg Blake, KC Groves, Terry Kitchen, Dan Schatz, Andrew Magill.
What others are saying....
"Jewels and Harmony is one of those recordings where you want to listen to the entire work and then listen once again. Mara Levine's voice jumps out at you with the clarity of a well tuned chime or bell in the tradition of Judy Collins and Joan Baez. Her selection of songs for this project are truly well chosen and the delight of having the amazing guests she has surrounded herself with is a true treat. The best for last in these comments---Si Kahn appears on one track and one is a song he has written specifically for this recording... if Mara continues on this trajectory, there is no reason she should not be recognized as the world-class artist she is."
Bill Hahn, co-host - "Traditions," WFDU -FM, Teaneck NJ
"Wow! I'm not sure where to start with the accolades for Jewels and Harmony. Most recordings have three or four very good songs and the rest are so so. I've methodically played each cut and every song is brilliantly done. The subtle but exquisite instrumentation and....ahh....those harmonies....and your voice....simply beautiful."
Jim Fisher, host - "Down Home Folk and Bluegrass," WGCS FM, Goshen IN
"WOW! Your CD is stunningly beautiful. Your voice is so rich and fluid and your song choice excellent. I instantly remembered By My Side, and sang right along...I just want to say that your CD is truly gorgeous."
Maggie Ferguson, host -"The Old Front Porch," WXOU-FM, MI
"I like your version [of 'By My Side']. It did give me goose bumps in the beginning and I also think that you have given it a different interpretation than what I have normally heard. Bringing in a male voice for the accompaniment/echo is innovative and new."
Jay Hamburger, lyricist "By My Side" from the Broadway musical Godspell
I'm a few songs into the CD and it's really a beautiful piece of work. It's funny, even though I've recorded two folk albums, I'm not often fond of listening to folk albums. But, yours really is a gem. Great song choice and great arrangements. The production is really strong too. Nice work."
Joe Iadanza, performing songwriter
"Jewels and Harmony is an incredible album. It’s beautiful and something to be proud of. I enjoyed 'Blackberry Time' very much."
Roger Sprung, bluegrass musician
"When I first heard Mara Levine's CD "Mara's Gems" I said that the real gem on the CD was her voice. With her release of "Jewels And Harmony", I am happy to report that she has taken that gem and placed in in a lustrous new setting that only enhances it's beauty."
Art Dean, host WCNI Traditions, New London CT
"Acoustic country/folk with meaningful lyrics, lovingly interpreted and delivered with a crystal clear, sparkling voice--these are hallmarks of Mara Levine. With her new release Jewels and Harmony she delivers the first sensationally good CD of 2013, following on the heels of her effective 2009 debut, Mara's Gems. She puts her heart and soul into these 15 pieces and comes up with pearls from well-known and some lesser-known tunes. The fact the she did not compose the music takes nothing away from this work.
This CD is essential for every collection--it's on permanent rotation in my player. The title is perfect--every song is a gem. You either like Taylor Swift or Mara Levine. One of these two has got to be the best singer in America. Go with Mara and you will be rewarded with a much richer artistic experience. And those of you who remember Kate Wolf will embrace Mara Levine outright. Five of five stars!" Freidrich Hog "No Fences" magazine #58 (Germany)
“Mara Levine’s crystal clear voice reminds one of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez in the fifteen tracks that she selected for her new record ‘Jewels And Harmony’. It is a marvellous collection of well arranged and beautifully sung covers of well known and unknown style classics” – www.rootstime.be (Belgium)
Full Album Review Mara Levine Album: Jewels And Harmony http://www.fatea-records.co.uk/magazine/MaraLevine.html (UK) Label: Mara's Creations Tracks: 15 Website: http://www.maralevine.com
You could say that accomplished New-Jersey-based jewellery designer Mara Levine lives to sing; that you can tell at once from her crystal-clear delivery, her excellent diction, her practised technique. She's been singing professionally for a little over a decade, yet Jewels And Harmony is only her second CD. It proves to be one of those almost-too-good-to-be-true records, where everything is so in-its-place: vocals are expressive perfection, arrangements telling and apt, interpretations classy, choice of material neatly mixing slightly familiar with unknown but very worthy.
Mara's own performance is peerless: she possesses an attractive, assured singing voice that recalls Joan Baez, Sylvia Tyson and to some extent also Judy Collins, while the tone and feel of the arrangements is very mid-60s too although without the dated aspect that tag might imply - for Mara's performances are genuinely timeless in style and execution, and will appeal to any folk fan who's enjoyed the above artists' discs, Mara too producing polished yet thoughtful, entirely accessible musical renditions of some classic material.
She also has the considerable benefit of support from a host of really good musicians and singers from her local community (notably the genial combo Gathering Time and producer Bob Harris), with some excellent cameo roles and vocal harmonies provided by the likes of Pat Wictor, Caroline Cutroneo, Joe Jencks, supported by percussion from Cheryl Prashker.
The repertoire is both comforting (also familiar in idiom) and stimulating (songs you'll very probably not have heard but will want to hear again immediately). It includes two lesser-covered Paul Simon songs (April Come She Will and Leaves That Are Green), Bill Staines' River and Gershwin's Summertime (done in a refreshingly honest, simple bluesy fashion), alongside Jud Caswell's bluegrassy Blackberry Time, Bob Franke's seasonal offering Straw Against The Chill and the entirely apposite CD closer, Dan Schatz's Leave Time (on which the song's author himself makes a key contribution).
The generous helping of new-to-me songs receiving exposure here includes Nancy Cassidy's rousing Hallelujah, Pat Wictor's delightful I Will Walk With You and a brand new Si Kahn song - written for this very album - When I Sing With You. Si Kahn himself duets with Mara on a matchless rendition of Michael Peter Smith's almost unbearably yearning and poignant portrait of The Dutchman, providing the disc with one of its many standout tracks.
And notwithstanding Mara's own special vocal expertise, she's unafraid to let another singer take the lead where appropriate, as on the superb version of Rowland Salley's Killing The Blues which features Terry Rivel. The modest, entirely tasteful and fairly gentle acoustic arrangements are faultlessly configured yet retain sufficient sense of spontaneity to ensure a continued involvement on the part of the listener.
I really can't fault this disc either from a musical or presentation point of view (full credits and lyrics are in the booklet, which also features Mara's jewellery designs); its title Jewels And Harmony fair sums it all up.. David Kidman