Every generation has music which defines it. This generation seems to be hung up on sugar-coated, plastic Pop Music which lacks any real heart, soul or passion. Not sure that I like what that says about this generation. There are cries once again that “Rock Is Dead”, while radio, awards shows and other media sources all seem to be embracing this bland, elevator music which is being written by committees of “songwriters” rather than by real artists. Yes, there have been cries that rock is dead in the past and sure enough all it took for a resurgence were a few artists who really cared enough about their craft to stay true to what they believed in and strive determinedly forward to forge brave new paths with their music. The next thing you knew some amazing new artist came along who turned everything upside down with their amazing talent and music and rock lived once again! The artist who is doing that today is Singer/Songwriter Shirley Levi.
She has a ferocious style of music that is part rock and part country/folk, which artfully walks the line between sweet and rampageous, riotous, all-out rock! I hate to call it Punk, because it is so much more than what we generally think of as Punk, but it definitely has the defiant spirit of Punk that you’d find in legends such as Johnny Cash. It’s definitely not what most would call country, either. She calls it “Shirley RAWk” because of the RAW emotional element to her songwriting and the RAW tonality of her music. After all, it’s just her and her guitar on stage, all of her battle scars exposed for the world to see. Shirley has a voice that is unparalleled in the world of rock vocalists and, in fact, was just called a “Rising Star” by The Vocalist Magazine. Her melodies are haunting, pure, unfiltered, whimsical and manic. They cut into you like a beautiful knife that soothes and destroys you all at once. Her lyrics that are as poetic and hard-hitting as her guitar playing. Sure their are guitarists that can zoom around on the guitar neck playing a million notes a second, climbing scales from here to the moon, but there are very few guitarists who put such passion and emotion into every single note. Everything matters to Shirley and it shows in every haunting note she plays. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that life and music are “urgent” and it certainly shows in her music and the energy she brings to the stage. It’s not just another performance for her, it’s everything! It is a life-and-death struggle to be heard.
Shirley Levi’s recent live show in Hollywood electrified and stirred her audience in a way that’s hard for even the most seasoned performer to do. She has a way of getting her audience to scream and shout in a way I haven’t seen in a long long time. Again, I think that comes down to the fact that she is really deeply committed to her music, which is evident in her songwriting, performance and the unbridled enthusiasm in her voice. Every nuance of her set was completely expressive, passionate and utterly breath-taking to behold. She is an artist who makes her audience believe in the magic of music as she tears into her guitar with all the force of her spirit. She holds nothing back in her delivery. She’s there to give you everything she has. And that’s a lot. She’s is the “Raging Bull of Rock”, ready to fight with all of her might! You can tell she loves the way her guitar fits in her hands like a weapon that is ready to blast away at her deepest pains. She is a strong woman with a gentle soul.
Shirley started her set by blessing the room with a beautiful Hebrew Prayer set to heavy rock guitar, something I’ve never heard before and it was an immediate ear-opener, grabbing my attention and telling me right away that this wasn’t going to be just another show by just any artist: This is going to be something special. And it was. Although I don’t understand Hebrew, Shirley was still able convey the emotional message of the song through her extremely expressive voice and performance. She has an eloquent way of painting a vivid emotional landscape with her voice that really brings her songs to life. This was true of her entire set. It’s her rare gift and one that I find lacking in so many other artists who are technically perfect and pretty sounding, but lack the emotional core to their music. Shirley Levi’s music is all emotion. All heart and soul. She has a very distinct voice too, which is so important. She sounds like nobody else out there. While you can hear her influences, you can also hear her rising above them to create her own unique signature. That’s not easy to do. Most artists just end up sounding like carbon copies of their heroes, not creating music that is unique enough to be called their very own style. Shirley Levi is not most artists, however, and she has mastered the ability to create her own unique genre. It’s because she bleeds her heart into everything until it’s stained with her essence. That’s bold and beautiful. Her second song of the night is one of my favorites and has recently gotten airplay on Indie 103.1, it’s called “Walk Away”. Like many of Shirley Levi’s songs this one is about the pain that is left behind when love comes to an end. There is a heartbreaking part of this song towards the end when the music stops and she sings the few simple words, “There’s no love”, in such a affecting, tragic way that it cuts through you like a dagger until you feel what she is feeling. That’s what real music is suppose to do. And Shirley Levi does it so well. Another favorite of the night was her new avant-garde song, “You Know Why”, which is stripped clean of most of its lyrics and replaced by Shirley’s thunderous, percussive clattering, like a wild trumpet wailing, that is meant to be representative of the nonsensical dialogues which we all have as we try to explain ourselves over and over when it’s simpler to say, “You Know Why” – you know why I feel the way I do because I’ve told you a million times and there are, as Shirley so beautifully put it, “No more words”. Brilliant! Just brilliant! And with vocals that are as beautiful as they are bold, progressive and daring. There’s not another artist who can do what Shirley Levi does with her voice. Not one.
After a blazing forty minute set that artfully blended all the glorious elements of rock, punk, blues, folk and country together with a dramatic, theatrical delivery, Shirley began one of her signature songs, “Bourgeois Peasant”, about the struggle to keep one’s dreams alive in the face of all adversities. With beautiful, poignant lyrics such as “I’ll make it big one day. I’ll light the blue sky with glory. Shine hope with my story!”, this song has got a country authentic twang to it that you really don’t hear much in country music anymore. It is reminiscent of the greats like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and is infused with so much heart and soul that you can’t help but to clap along and feel uplifted by it’s boisterous spirit! Toward the end of the song, much to the surprise of most of the audience, Shirley was joined on stage by Stephen Bradley the horn player who has been a fixture in No Doubt for the last 18 years. Stephen’s bluesy horn playing became more like a mariachi as “Bourgeois Peasant” gave way to Shirley’s punk rock payer “We Are One” and it was a perfect compliment to Shirley Levi’s fearless, spirited voice and energetic guitar playing. He even sang along happily to some of the choruses, helping Shirley to ignite the crowd even more than they had already been.
As Shirley finished her set, she mentioned that the Epiphone Guitar she was playing was on loan from Gibson (which she now endorses along with Marshall Amps) and had recently been played by Paul McCartney’s Guitarist on The Grammy’s tribute to The Beatles. The retro styling and sound of her guitar through the classic sound of her Marshall Amp gave her music a tone that went beautifully with her voice, which is also very retro and classic sounding. It’s a pairing made in heaven. The right gear definitely makes a difference when an artist is considering their sound and you can tell that Shirley really took the time to get her gear down for her Shirley RAWk sound.
After Shirley Levi’s set, Chris Black was there to interview her and also speak about her performance and music. He also interviewed Guest Artist Stephen Bradley who joined Shirley on stage for a few of her songs and asked him what it was like to play together for the first time.
You can listen to the interviews in their entirety here
It’s easy to see Shirley as the kind of artist that will be highly regarded as a solo artist who is regularly joined on stage by other legendary artists who are eager to share in her glow. There’s a light around Shirley that few artists have. You can call it the “X- Factor”, because trying to define it could take a life time – Hopefully there’s a lifetime of music ahead of us from this great artist – But she definitely has it in abundance. As Stephen Bradley said, “She has so much energy. She is nuclear!”. I am happy to say that Rock Music isn’t dead. It just needed a jump start and I for one believe that Shirley Levi has given it the new life it deserves.
Read more of Shirley Levi’s story and hear her music at her Official Website!
Watch Volume 1, Volume 2 & Volume 3 of Shirley Levi LIVE at Bar Lubitsch:
Volume 1 – Featuring Shirley Levi’s songs “Show Me Some of Yourself”, Woke Up” & Survive”.
Volume 2 – Featuring Shirley Levi’s songs “Walk Away” & “You know Why”.
Volume 3 – Featuring Shirley Levi’s songs “Bourgeois Peasant” and “We are One” with a special guest appearance by Stephen Bradley from No Doubt!