Border Crossing, the fourth record from South Africa’s Laurie Levine, is a revelation of what can happen when comfort zones are jettisoned, old habits sent packing and boundaries trampled on.
Recorded during the first half of 2013 at Johannesburg’s Stoep Studio, the 11-track record displays Levine’s ongoing love affair with the folk and country that has driven her previous three albums – Unspoken (2007), Living Room (2009), and Six Winters (2011).
But, true to its title, Border Crossing also goes on an adventure in search of other sounds that can serve Levine’s often-extraordinary tales of emotional dislocation, leaving and homecoming, and, mostly, love.
What turns up in this pursuit is soul. Lashings of it in fact, with “Last One Standing” swaying to the sounds of Stax-era female backing vocals and a plump horn section (courtesy of Boykey Sidley and Bez Roberts) – and “Every Man” coming on like a sonic throwback that’s simultaneously headed to the future at full-tilt.
Also muscling its way into the musical mix is rootsy rock ‘n roll that delivers an intoxicating energy to several songs on Border Crossing. One of these is “Stealing My Love” which has, unsurprisingly, found an eager reception at South African radio, becoming the first single off the record and marking a new step in Levine’s seven-year career.
“This album is both an extension of and a departure from the songs that I’ve played before,” says Levine of Border Crossing. “It’s something familiar and something new. It’s a piece of me right here, right now and I can’t wait to share it.”
Levine’s buoyancy is echoed by Border Crossing’s producer, Dan Roberts, whose work on Six Winters earned him a Best Producer South African Music Award in 2012.
“When Laurie pitched up with this new body of work it was clear she had a bunch of new things to say, although her romance with the music of the American South continues,” says Roberts. “Clearly Laurie is in a different place to the shimmering beauty and sense of loss that was Six Winters. This Laurie wanted to party, though clearly in a Laurie way!”
Levine was also intent on bringing a bunch of friends along for the party, starting with her partner, Barry Berk.
“We have a great little home studio set up, and we started putting down some of the songs I had written over the last few months,” recalls Levine. “It was a new experience having the freedom to put down ideas in the moment in your own house and explore different sounds freely.” This early production, combined with some co-writing with Roberts and Berk, allowed for an exploration of different styles and influences. ‘The rock and soul you hear on the album came out of an openness to songwriting collaboration that I let into the creative process this time around,” confides Levine.
Once the process of recording had begun, Levine and Roberts called on sparkling line-up of talent to breathe life into the songs. Drummer Justin Badenhorst, Tebogo Sedumedi on bass and vocals, Lebo Moalusi on vocals and keyboardist Tshepo Hope Monareng. “Tebogo plays with HHP and is force of nature, Tshepo is a keyboard player with a heavenly touch and groove, Lebo has a background in Gospel and Justin was brilliant on drums,” says Roberts of the four-piece. “What a band they turned out to be.”
For Levine, the decision to work with new musicians proved inspired.
“I am discovering the beauty of what happens when you bring together musicians with such different styles and backgrounds,” she says. “We’re in search of a meeting place where acoustic instruments can be carried by the rhythm of gospel and soul. A hoedown in a shed filled with trumpets, tambourines, banjos, guitars and the intertwining voices of folk, soul and rock n roll.”
“Front Seat”, coming midway on Border Crossing, maybe best captures the sense of musical camaraderie that so invitingly infuses the record. “These wrong turns, they show me the right way,” sings Levine on this rollicking track, once again showing her lyrical prowess that has only gathered enviable steam since Unspoken.
Still, even though Border Crossing sees Levine finding new sonic settings for her material and embracing new collaborations, at the heart of the record is the very stuff that has earned Levine fans around the world since 2007. A standout on this terrific album is “Falling Down”, a song that, with aching emotion, details the bleak nothingness that can easily tug us – in this case a suburban mother – into the undertow.
Poetic, understated and powerful, the song encompasses Levine’s signature sound that on Border Crossing has also morphed into bold, new directions. With a successful UK tour in 2012 and rave reviews for Six Winters internationally (No Depression gave it 10/10 and Uncut gave it 8/10), Border Crossing is set to be the record that firmly places Levine where she deserves to be: crossing borders the world over to take her music to new fans.