Guitarist Barry Levenson has been living in Southern California, where he has been making a living doing studio work. Originally from Pittsburgh, he studied arranging at the Berklee School of Music in Boston before crossing the country where he found work backing legendary artists like Big Mama Thornton, Pee Wee Crayton, and Lowell Fulson. Eventually the intrepid musician was for A&R duties in addition to producing sessions for the European label, Storyville Records. Other highlights from his career include a W.C. Handy Blues Award nomination for Blues Song Of The Year for the title track from his Storyville release, Hard Times Won. Levenson also contributed to William Clarke’s Groove Time release on Alligator Records.
For his second Rip Cat project, the guitarist wanted to pay homage to some of the artists that influenced his musical development. The 1960s Buddy Guy recordings on the Vanguard label were the spark that started the raging desire to master the guitar, a passion so strong that at one point Levenson had to take a two year hiatus from playing as his hands would not function properly do to “overuse”. Guy’s influence comes through loud and clear on the original, “Talkin’ To Myself,” with Levenson expertly capturing the style and tone of the influential guitarist,the harp blowing courtesy Jay Edward.
A cover of Albert King’s “Your Gonna Need Me” has Billy Price on vocals and Phil Krawzak on horns, using some studio magic to form a full section. “This Time I’m Gone For Good” was written by Oscar Perry with Bobby “Blue” Bland recording the most memorable version. Price is at his pleading best while Levenson wrings plenty of raw emotion out of his guitar. Another familiar tune, “I Wonder Why,” is done as an instrumental. Levenson mixes fluid picking and bent notes to build a sizzling sequence that never loses steam. The other cover, “It’s Mighty Crazy,” has a smooth vocal from Levenson, one of four songs that he sings.
Hank Van Sickle on bass and Mike Sandberg on drums set up a swinging rhythm on “Steel City,” another instrumental that kicks into high gear thanks to Mike Thompson on organ. Levenson has plenty of fun on ‘Flipside,” using the shuffle as a springboard for more intricate picking before Krawzak a chance to shine on tenor sax. “Last Train To Nowhere” is a somber slow blues with stark wails from Levenson’s guitar over the lush background created by Thompson on electric keyboards. The guitarist makes a powerful statement on “Magic Groove,” this time displaying some Magic Sam influence, punctuated by Krawzak’s honking solo. “Ice Cold Kiss” has horns, a airy vocal from Levenson, and Thompson using a light touch on his keyboard to set the stage for another Guy-inspired guitar work-out.
Levenson invokes the spirit of T-Bone Walker on the slow blues “Shadows At Midnight,”complete with a lengthy opening guitar sequence. Once Levenson starts crying the blues, the horns swell behind him trying ease his burden. The title track is a masterpiece – seven minutes of the guitarist trying to exorcise his demons through his instrument in a dynamic articulation of skills.
While Levenson has a number of recordings under his own name, it is a safe bet that many blues fans remain unaware of this outstanding player. Hopefully this release will go a long way towards rectifying that situation. The Visit is a striking statement from a musician that is well-worth multiple listens!