Since surfacing with her remarkable debut,Unspoken, back in 2007, Laurie Levine has meticulously crafted a career that has turned her into a singer-songwriter of real substance.
Over a trio of records and countless live performances, the South African-based artist has taken her original material to a growing fanbase, earning multiple accolades along the way.
Among these was a best producer award (for producer Dan Roberts) for the critically acclaimed album, Six Winters (2011) at the annual South African Music Awards (SAMAs) in 2012. Levine’s second album, Living Room (2009), was also nominated for a SAMA in 2010 and her performances at South Africa’s National Arts Festival in the town of Grahamstown in July 2011 earned Levine a highly coveted Standard Bank Silver Ovation award.
It’s no secret why Levine has managed to sustain a career in a home market that’s dominated by Gospel, urban and pop – and is now poised for a strong international push.
As her fans know well, Levine’s gift lies in her ability to draw on the deep roots of folk music, and mix it in with a myriad of other influences, including from America’s Appalachia region and her native South Africa. With the acoustic guitar as her main instrument, her recordings see Levine – and a host of superb musicians – deploy an array of instruments (pedal steel, dobro, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, strings) that add the kind of atmosphere and layers that propel her songs out of simple singer-songwriter territory.
Remarkably, however, Levine manages to locate her contemporary folk stylings with a singularity that only the very best in the genre achieve with ease (the likes of Lucinda Williams, Alison Krauss, Anais Mitchell and Emmylou Harris). This has led to critics in South Africa (many of whom have likened her material to Alison Krauss/Robert Plant and Ryans Adams) uniformly praising Levine’s output, with all three of her albums making it onto multiple Best Of lists in their respective years.
At the heart of Levine’s material is her storytelling ability.
Whether tales of grief, loss, sex, betrayal or first loves, Levine’s ability to open a door with her words, and let listeners into an intimate world populated by a cast of lovers, strays, strangers is immense. This has given rise to a string of fan favourites and music videos for songs like “Kites”, a nostalgic waltz through an early summer love, and “Oh Brother”, a sparse but potent track that could easily be an outtake from Krauss and Plant’s Grammy winning Raising Sand.
As much as her material finds its footing in the terrain of Americana, Levine is also refreshingly unafraid of following where her music leads. Newer songs now making their way into her live sets reveal a sonic moodiness and also a heightened playfulness that are likely to find their way into the studio in future recordings.
Whether solo or with onstage collaborators, Levine has supported her releases with a slate of live performances that have cemented her standing as an artist of real power – and helped mark her out as a melodious, soulful singer capable of carrying emotion without any hint of histrionics.
These include performing at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and opening for Rodriguez in London. She has also played at a number of Africa’s premier music events and festivals, including Oppikoppi, the Joy of Jazz Festival, the FORR festival in Mozambique, the National Arts Festival, Levis Vintage Sundays, and the White Mountain Folk Festival. Levine was selected as the opening performer for international singer-songwriter Joe Jackson during his South African shows in 2008.
Levine’s ability to conjure certain moods means she is a popular choice for soundtrack compilers, with her songs appearing in several feature films (Craig Friemond’s Jozi), documentaries (John Blair’s Murder Most Foul) and in various television series and advertisements.
For this intuitive artist, the next step is to pack up her songs and take them to audiences beyond South Africa, where it’s likely the wholehearted embrace she receives back home will be repeated by fans in search of a extraordinary music experience.