On Paul Levinson And “Welcome Up”
It seems like just yesterday I was sitting down for eggs at City Diner with Paul Levinson. In reality, though, it has been over ten years (!!!) since I interviewed Paul for WFMU’s Beware Of The Blog. In the decade since our chat, I have followed him on Twitter (he’s a good follow!) and peeped his blog when he’s reviewing a TV show I’m currently watching. I guess you could say I’ve kept up with him from afar. As I’m not active enough on Twitter to wade into cultural or political matters beyond a like or a retweet, I mostly show my support for Paul by regularly spinning the vinyl copy of Twice Upon A Rhyme he gifted me. As someone who comes across new and fascinating musical artifacts on an almost-daily basis, you’d be amazed how singular Twice is in the world of Private Press/Acid Archives/Psych Folk albums. In the past month alone I’ve picked up records from Cy Timmons, Chris Portigal, and Songs For The Masses. It never ceases to surprise me that 99% of these discoveries cannot hold a candle to Levinson’s masterpiece from 1972.
You can imagine my excitement then when Paul reached out recently to share an advance copy of his new album with me. Titled Welcome Up: Songs Of Space And Time. To be officially released on February 7th via Old Bear Records and Light In The Attic, you can currently hear the album on Paul’s Bandcamp page. You can pre-order the vinyl (limited to 100 copies) courtesy of LITA here. Produced by Chris Hosington and recorded at Old Bear Studio, these 8 new compositions sound exactly how one might expect Levinson to sound nearly 50 years after Twice Upon A Rhyme. It’s hard to describe an album as a “natural progression” when the progression has stretched nearly half a century, but I really can’t think of a more apt descriptor for Welcome Up. The vibe is similar to what fans of the first album originally fell in love with, while still offering something modern and fresh for those who may not be as familiar with Twice…
Artist names who come to mind when first listening to Welcome Up range from Stephin Merritt (aka Magnetic Fields) to The Beach Boys, and even Jerry Solomon. The abundance of synths and computer-generated sounds also reminded me of the Super Furry Animals album Radiator. Paul’s lyrics and Chris Hosington’s production definitely skew towards the cosmic, with some of the songs directly inspired by the songwriter’s science fiction writing. “Samantha”, “Welcome Up”, “Tau Ceti” and “Picture Postcard World” are standout tracks. According to Paul, he began writing “Welcome Up” back in 1968 before finishing it in 2018. And “Picture Postcard World” was penned in its entirety in 1968! Whatever his original intentions were with those songs, they blend modern production techniques flawlessly with a “vintage” feel. In his brief note to me announcing the album Paul mentioned recent additions to his growing family (his two grandsons), and how family helped inspire him to get back into songwriting and recording. One can only imagine how giddy they were to learn that the disembodied voice — sounding at times like a collect call from another dimension mimicking Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — is their grandfather.
I cannot overstate how happy it makes me to see Paul Levinson continue his musical journey on Welcome Up. I’ve grown weary in recent years of artists trying to strike gold twice decades removed from when they started making music. Without naming any names, I can name dozens of artists who have released follow up albums 20, 30, 40 years on only to disappoint and/or tarnish their legacies. Welcome Up is a welcome change in that regard — it’s quite triumphant, actually — and any fan of Twice Upon A Rhyme will be overjoyed by it. It’s a testament to Levinson’s innate talents as both a songwriter and storyteller. As otherworldly, mystical and far-out as the subject matter may be, the songs burst with love and warmth and humanity. Check it out, I think you’ll dig it.
Ah, screw it. I’ll name one name who tarnished a legacy with a shitty follow-up album: Linda Perhacs.
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