Resonator – Tony Levin
Tony Levins career has had three phases, with some overlap. In the ’70s, he became one of the most prominent rock and jazz session bassists. In the ’80s, he began dividing his time between two of the primary artists in what might be called post-prog, Peter Gabriels band and the new incarnation of King Crimson. In the early ’00s, he began spending more of his time leading his own projects. What enabled phase one to start, and has also played a part in phases two and three, is that Levin has the kind of talent thats not easy to appreciate if you arent a musician. He has his showy side (evidenced by his explorations of the Stick and more recent gadgets such as Funk Fingers), but hes gotten calls primarily because he plays what needs to be played each time out, without faults or complaints. If that sounds easy, try it yourself sometime.
The one problem here is that this sort of musicianship might get you hired, but doesnt fill concert venues when your name is on the marquee. Levins solo band consists of two fellow Gabriel veterans (synthesist Larry Fast and drummer Jerry Marotta) plus one ringer (guitarist Jesse Gress). At the show I saw in 2000, the set included several of Levins prog/fusion/New Age instrumentals, some semi-related covers and a lot of war stories and chat from Levin, Fast and Marotta. Rather than distance themselves from the nerd factor you might expect in a band whose audience consists mostly of diehard Gabriel fans, Levins group embraced it. (Since I was there, I dont suppose I can plead innocent to the nerd charge myself.)
Resonator doesnt have the war stories, but the nerd factor is still present. Thats because Levin ups the ante by singing and writing lyrics on all but two tracks (in contrast to his mostly instrumental previous releases), demonstrating that a first-class sideman isnt always an equally stellar frontman. The main issue is that, rather than playing it subtle, Levin has come up with several rockers with a vocal persona suggesting your dad thinking hes Anthony Kiedis, which is an especially questionable strategy on a song called What Would Jimi Do about (you tell em, Tony) how his Baby Boomer generation is better than the later ones. Also unfortunate is his (or, perhaps, Gresss) taste for overdriven guitar sounds and high volumes, which may have signified something new in music in the Hendrix days but seem more reminiscent of Journey now.
Theres some potential here. Levin has applied his musical knowhow to come up with some well-crafted melodies, particularly on the Brazil/recent Sting-styled Beyond My Reach. Crisis of Faith is a two-minute dissonant chorale which is bombastic but genuinely progressive, in a Gentle Giant fashion. Throw The God a Bone is as silly as youd expect a song about dog ownership to be, but the Dylan and Wings references are signs of muso cleverness. And, not surprisingly, theres plenty of that quietly masterful bass, as well as Fast and Marotta contributing some synth and drum textures in the vein of what they brought to Gabriels third and fourth albums.
The diehard Gabriel/Crimheads will have bought this CD before this review appears. Those on the edge might be best off figuring out what Levin was up to on Discipline and So, and then, if the itch strikes, seeing this group live, where youll be likely to get more energetic renditions of the better songs here, plus some good stories.