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James Leva

All Over the Map – 2014 (Patuxent)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by James Leva

James Leva practices traditional music with commitment. His latest release, "All Over The World," demonstrates this through its 17-track journey. Leva, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist from Appalachian Va., has travelled the world, both in fact and in music, and it shows. Leva is a veteran player, having been with Plank Road, Ace Weems and the Fat Meat Boys and the Hellbenders. (with Bruce Molsky and Dave Grant). In later years, he joined with Irish guitarist, John Doyle, to release "Memory Theatre." Most recently, he has appeared with Purgatory Mountain.

"All Over The Road" is a disc that you can drop in your CD player and listen straight through (the preferred approach), losing track of when it cycles back to the beginning. The work features a mixture of vocal and instrumental tracks, in good measure, each seeding the next. He collaborated with his daughter, Vivian Leva, on several vocal tracks. (Nora Jane Struthers drops in with a contributed vocal track on "From Far Away" and her own composition "I Will Wait For You").

Most are traditional tunes, with distinctive arrangements by Leva. Standout tracks include "Falling" (written by Vivian Leva) and "Axe Me" (a James Leva original) featuring a nice turn by Danny Knicely on mandolin. The production quality is true and crisp, thanks (on most tracks) to Bobby Read's work at Small World Music in Charlottesville, Va.

Recording traditional tunes and reproducing them digitally gets risky. Traditional mountain music, heard in the mid-2010's, should recall the past, whilst respecting the ritual of language and song. If a recording is too "present," it can lose its power to evoke. Not so with Leva's work here. The old-time tunes convey an appropriate distance from the present and a connection to the past. In contrast, the modern compositions feature a presence, which sets them apart from the traditional. It's a great mix.