By Paul Liberatore
Marin Independent Journal
Lowell Levinger “Down to the Roots”
This is the first time West Marin’s Lowell Levinger has used his given name on an album.
It’s easy to see why he’s gotten more formal on the all acoustic “Down to the Roots.” With guests the caliber of Ry Cooder, David Grisman, Barry Melton and Terry Haggerty, Levinger clearly wants to be taken seriously this time around.
This collection of 14 songs is a nod to the Americana music of his youth in Santa Rosa, when he would take buses to Music City Records in Oakland to buy blues and R&B records he heard on the radio on so-called “race” stations, and to the folk tunes and bluegrass he listened to and played when he went to Boston College in Cambridge, Mass, in the 1960s.
A co-founder of the Youngbloods, famed for their anthem of universal brotherhood “Get Together,” he moved to West Marin with the rest of the band in 1967, the Summer of Love. By then, he had acquired his nickname, Banana, and, more recently when his kids had kids and his hair and beard turned white, Grandpa Banana.
“Down to the Roots” reprises a number of songs from three previous Grandpa Banana CDs. Cooder is featured on slide guitar on the up-tempo “Married to the Blues” by local songwriter Joe New. Grisman guests on mandolin on the gypsy jazz-style “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” and plays the sweet instrumental intro to the classic “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”
Haggerty, co-founder of the Sons of Champlin, adds a tasteful lead guitar solo on the traditional “Corrina Corrina,” and Melton, the “Fish” of Country Joe and the Fish, rips off a spirited slide guitar lead on the clever “Love Is a Five Letter Word.” Local bluegrass musician David Thom shines on mandolin on Jack Bonus’ “Precious Gold.”
After years as folk singer Mimi Farina’s accompanist, Levinger turned to jazz-rock with the Marin band Zero. He features his Zero bandmates, lead guitarist Steve Kimock and bassist Bobby Vega, on John Hiatt’s rocker “Riding with the King,” a Zero concert staple.
Levinger, multi-instrumentalist with a vintage stringed instrument business, plays guitar, five-string tenor guitar, banjo and piano. He sings in a sturdy baritone that is colored by decades of hard-earned experience and the talent and soul he was fortunate to be born with.
“Down to the Roots” was recorded at Owl Mountain Studio in Inverness with a core rhythm section of bassist Sam Page and drummer Ethan Turner, who recorded, mixed and mastered this collection of Americana music by one of Marin’s estimable masters. Lowell Levinger is so good on this album he may make his fans forget all about Banana.
Buy it: “Down to the Roots,” Lowell Levinger, independent, CD $13 at lowelllevinger.com, $9.99 download iTunes
— Paul Liberatore