"One Too Many Times" by Levi Washington, Lewis Cutts & Caitlin McCarthyReview
I'm sure many readers will have been saddened to hear of the illness of Levi Washington last week and his consequent hospitalisation.
The good news is that he's fortunately out & about again & running his many music nights, though even so, I was surprised that he'd managed to still get back in the "single release every week" saddle so quickly.
In fact, when Levi originally sent me the track to listen to, he inadvertently sent just the backing track to "One Too Many Times" & so well does it work as a pure instrumental that I thought (knowing Levi's predilection for the unexpected) that this time he'd gone down that route: the track sounding a little like some of the things the Style Council used to do.
Even once I'd heard it with words, I believe that were we still in the era of "A" & "B" sides to singles, the instrumental version would make a good "B" side in its own considerable right.
That said, it's clear from what Levi says that the music, however beautifully crafted it might be (and I understand that there have been as many as 110 tracks condensed down to around ten for the music alone), the words are so key to him that he states that "I knew a year ago it was one of the best things I'd ever written".
It takes a composer to say such things about their own work as it is so difficult for a reviewer to do so: especially for one attempting to follow a developing body of work as diverse as Levi's. You'll know from past reviews how strong I consider so many of his tracks and they speak to such different aspects of his personality & interests that objectively comparing them is not easy, nor I suspect possible. Therefore if the man himself thinks that this song hits the centre of the target he's aiming at, then it counts for a lot. As he also helpfully tells us "It was born from a place or genuine heartache rather from a theoretical or fictional place like a lot of my other work." Not that I'd have necessarily been able to pick fact from fiction in his work, so effective are his skills of persuasion.
As you might expect for any Levi song, if it's not one of those which reveals itself to him instantaneously, then almost certainly you can bet that he's spent a long time honing it: and you'd be right as it's been crafted over the past year. Apparently Levi re-recorded his own vocals several times to fit in with the complex vocal harmonies (up to a dozen at once in places) and with so many tracks, the mixing task was "mammoth". But well worth it judging by the results.
The theme of the words is part of a wider exploration of the human heart that Levi has long been undertaking: in this case moving beyond the fact of a relationship which has soured into an acceptance that willing one to succeed is no guarantee that it will, or can.
Consequently, given the material informing the lyrics, it sets the song up nicely for a soulful approach & this is what he delivers (in 6/8 time) and another platform to let rip with his instrumental & vocal chops, aided by Lewis Cutts (on additional rhythm guitar) and Caitlin McCarthy (who provides layers of the harmonic structure & helped refine the lyrics). Both get a prominent credit on the sleeve
Not so credited, but equally deserving of attention is German-based drummer Taustanauhat with whom Levi has built up an online collaboration since lockdown began and whose understanding of what Levi's music is all about contributes to that quality of the music which I noted before even hearing the words.
It's hard to underestimate the importance of this song as far as its creator in concerned. The "release a week" strategy has allowed us access to far more of his songs than we dare imagine & provides a wonderful shop window into the many facets of his diverse art. However, within such a deluge of music, it's hard to form opinions about where each sits in the estimation of the writer & so I'm glad that he's so precise about this one.
Equally, most of the previous ones have tended to be "one man shows" given his capacity to be able to perform so many instruments & provide his own harmonies, so it's interesting how not only has he collaborated here on "One Too Many Times" but that in addition to waxing lyrical about the contributions of the others, he is so enthusiastic about the process of collaboration & how it drove him still further down the road of perfectionism (along which he has already travelled such a distance).
It's hard also to quantify the effect of his recent illness: such frightening events can often impel us to re-examine ourselves & respark our understanding of our need to interact & appreciate others. That said, the single was started long before he was taken ill, so cannot be a reaction to that, though I suppose it's possible that its scheduled release date might have been moved up in response.
At any rate, it is significant that such an obviously high quality & statement single marks his return to action. Levi is right back into the swing of his live sessions here, there & everywhere & let's all send him congratulations on his recovery, this great single & wish him continued good health.