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Justin Levinson | Predetermined Fate

Album review by John Powell

Justin Levinson | Predetermined Fate

Justin Levinson has been compared to Ben Folds in his vocal delivery, his eloquence, and at times his tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. With Predetermined Fate, however, Justin leaves behind much of the pop, radio-ready sounds he might have explored previously. Instead, Predetermined Fate draws from his time spent in Nashville, where he enjoyed the heightened sense of musical community. His latest LP, in fact, has a full-bodied sound, like a family band feel, laced with violin, slide guitar, whispered backing vocals, and harmonica.

“Everything’s About You”, the opening track, hits hard, with electric slide guitar, falling into a minor key strum on acoustic, and Justin singing, “You’re wearing hats that aren’t yours…They’ll take ‘til they can’t take no more,” with the country heart, but he thankfully leaves the twang out.

Another highly catchy track is “Hopelessness”. Justin lets his voice get gritty and sound as tired as the narrator in the song. “You’re better off a failure,” he sings. “It’s a loser that has a fall back plan.” The song features the sort of heavy and melodic piano playing that might drum up the Ben Folds comparison, but no instrument throughout the album overpowers another.

Perhaps that’s the best selling point of Predetermined Fate: it sounds really good. “Every Time You Learn Something” features mandolin, a driving snare beat, and allows Justin enough instrumental support- like a comfortable bed- for him to let his voice explore emotion. Add in a harmonica solo, the line “Taste the sweetest crème brule,” and you have a totally accessible song.

The key track is “Losing You to Tennessee,” with the sharpest muted guitar strumming and real world narration. Light banjo, slide guitar, pining lyrics about a love lost to distance, and a wonderful musical interlude make it radio-ready (at least on the country music stations).

With more listens, the more the album feels right. At first, Justin might sound predictable, or too interested in writing love songs, with the occasional political middle finger, like, “It’s another offshore oil drill/It’s a quick fix of nicotine” (“Bandaid on a Bullet Wound”). After a few listens, however, perhaps while you’re reading or staring out the window on a lazy day, you’ll find Predetermined Fate to use folk, country, and pop conventions to convey the thoughts and emotions of a traveling, learning, conscious singer/songwriter with nothing to fear but his own insecurities.

Justin’s already gained awards and praise for his songwriting, and so it’s no surprise he’s growing in popularity, but he’s an old soul that understands the small town traditions. This keeps him humble and it keeps his music somewhere between classic and cutting edge.


 

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