Released on Heavenly Recordings under the name James Levy and The Blood Red Rose, Pray To Be Free is a romantic yet playful collection of jaunty pop and bruised ballads, imbued with stunning vocals and wrapped in a variety of velvet strings, suave horns and lush arrangements.
Akin to the kind of classic Serge Gainsbourg recorded in the ‘60s with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, or Lee Hazlewood’s similarly charged duets with Nancy Sinatra and Ann Margret – long time friends James Levy and Allison Pierce deliver the vocal sparing in these sumptuous duels of love and war.
Allison played an instrumental part in the making of this album, not only by choosing to cover Levy’s song Glorious with her sister, but by introducing him to their producer, Coldplay’s Guy Berryman. Guy loved what he heard and offered to produce Levy’s album.
Says Guy – “I met James Levy in New York city in the summer of 2009. James had written a song called ‘Glorious’ which the Pierces were recording and visited us in session. I was curious to learn that James lived in a window-less basement in Brooklyn, sleeping during the day and writing songs through the night. Alison Pierce had given me 5 recordings she and James had recorded in the basement and I immediately fell in love with the sound of their voices together — it felt classy.”
“The songs collected on ‘James Levy and the Blood Red Rose’ document romance in all it’s guises; dark, twisted, hopeful and joyful. The sounds, drawing upon classic arrangements from the 50’s and 60’s, are melodic and lush and are hopefully a breath of fresh air in a world dominated by urban electronica.”
With the exception of Allison’s Cry Myself To Sleep, the songs on Pray To Be Free are picked from a collection of more than 50 Levy-penned tracks — some of which were originally recorded by the band named LEVY, which released two albums on One Little Indian in the mid 2000s and toured the UK alongside The Macabees. Other songs were chosen from a series of post-LEVY releases that more closely embodied the Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan spirit that James took with him when he left his native Vermont in the early Naughties for New York City. One of the premiere songwriters and performers in town, he was readily embraced by the burgeoning anti-folk scene centred around the Sidewalk Cafe, which included contemporaries like Adam Green, Kimya Dawson and Regina Spektor.
At the heart of Pray To Be Free sit some of James’ newest and most compelling compositions, including the soon-to-be-singles “Sneak Into My Room” and “Hung to Dry”. “The new songs came alive for me when I performed them with Allison,” James says. “These songs were meant to be sung as duets. There is a beautiful, knowing quality to Allison’s voice. She understands where the songs come from.” Other songs that hold a particular resonance to Levy include “Precious Age Of 13”, half-sung in Hebrew (the words come from the passage James memorised for his bar mitzvah) and the album’s finale. “I wanted to write a song like Gainsbourg but I couldn’t sing in French, so I sing in Hebrew instead!”.
James’ roots helped support him during his more recent years when he worked for a Jewish cemetery. But now, with the imminent release of Pray To Be Free and The Pierces’ success with their version Of Glorious, he has finally given up the day job. His prayers have been answered.
Levy and Pierce will play their only UK show in a headlining slot at the Lexington on February 29th. Tickets available here
“Levy’s baritone brings a velvety richness to string-drenched songs about infidelity and betrayal, while Pierce proves a distinctive foil. These are beautiful songs with a murderous heart” UNCUT****
“21st century take on the wry, sexually challenged but always beautiful ‘60s/‘70s duets of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra…they create an impossibly catchy magic…Q****
“whether they sang as one, or better still, entwined their voices around the others like old slippers or young lovers , they soared” EVENING STANDARD****
“the growling boy/cooing girl dynamic of Nancy & Lee, Serge and Jane has been much imitated but few have produced a more convincing blueprint.…his songs are simple and seductive helped by hints of dry bone humour.…MOJO****