Fresh tunes, new faces: Like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano, summertime’s home-grown music has returned to the mountains, bringing with it a host of new CD offerings

By Chris Cooper

It’s warm out, people are out wandering the streets later in the evening, guitars clang and drums echo off the building’s facades with each opening and closing of one bar’s doors whilst the occasional chime of a flat-top guitar lingers in the air above a deck at the other end of the street — ah, ‘tis the season for a new batch of local and regional artists to pass through Sylva, bearing gifts of DIY recordings and live music. Up this week is the delicate folk/pop of Hannah Levin, eccentric pop offerings from Dylan Gilbert and some finely crafted retro/roots/indie rock from Hickory’s Israel Darling.

Hannah Levin: Road Of A Lifetime

Earnest lyrics and a quirky, matter-of-fact delivery are the order of the day on Sylva resident Hannah Levin’s first CD, recorded locally with Karen Barnes sideman and multi-instrumentalist Dave Magill.

Armed with a nicely melodic chirp and a penchant for introspection, Levin finds a comfortable middle ground between unadorned modern folk and bluegrass instrumentation, with mandolinist Mac Brown filling many tunes with smart solos and sensitive accompaniment.

One gets the feeling that Levin and harmony vocalist Jessica Johnson have sung together quite a bit before, as their voices have a way of melding together in such a way that can only come from experience. Case in point; check out the opener and the sparkling layers they weave together, sometimes only on a few words of a verse until they hit those cheery thirds in the chorus.

Levin’s goal of making an honest, low frills album is apparent throughout Road Of A Lifetime, mostly in that the songs are given just what is needed to fill them out — Magill’s production gives ample room for voices and instruments. The absence of percussion make this a mostly strum and sing affair, but thankfully Levin’s songwriting sidesteps the potential pitfalls of sameness. She makes you wait for the minor key songs, but once you get to one you’re rewarded with some fine playing from Mac Brown’s mandolin on “Refugee From Love.” “Waiting For You” is a standout track here, atypically somber but lovely in its lilting, pastoral waltz and sometimes unexpected melodic turns.

Perfect for a rainy day inside or a sunny one out, Levin makes a strong first showing with the mellow and inspired Road Of A Lifetime.

Israel Darling: 4 song EP

Acoustic and jangly but the polar opposite of mellow, Hickory’s Israel Darling draws a little rock twang and swagger into their clever Cohen meets Bacharach meets Buckley stew, and it sure does work.

Atmospheric echoes swirl beneath a story of inner turmoil and hard choices in “Oh My God,” until the noise builds to a roar that matches the pain and regret in the storyteller’s head. Vocalist and songwriter Jacob Darden has a knack for delivering the damndest lyric at just the right time, with a voice somewhere in the area of Jump Little Children’s Jay Clifford and Andrew Bird, peppered with a tad of David Gray.

“All Is Well” gears down a bit, but what sticks with you about these guys is that for all the “skinny pants” affectations and bouncing around (at least in the live format) there are real songs here, and the potential for much, much more. Smart arrangements, crafty use of sound (check the “grating giving way to hypnotic” drum loop under “I Know But It Is Late”) and no shortage of heartbreak in the material make for some great ingredients. We’ll just have to wait for Israel Darling to finish up the full-length album and head our way again — soon. Well worth a listen.

Dylan Gilbert: The Artist & The Scientist

While on the crunchy pop subject, Charlottean Dylan Gilbert has much to offer as well. Playing a host of instruments and embracing a healthy respect for noise, he leans more to the crunchy side of things than Israel Darling — which is probably why they’re a good match for a show.

On The Artist & The Scientist Gilbert manages to say a lot with a little, crafting dreamy (but colorful) vignettes of people and interactions. “In Camera” kind of encapsulates much of what Gilbert is about, musically — a swirling, screechy sheet of noise in the intro (funny things happen when you start twisting the “time” knob on a delay pedal mid-phrase) collapses into a ringing acoustic guitar figure and gently hushed, double tracked vocals, complete with a nice stack of harmonies in the chorus.

Gilbert’s use of sound effects (dig the seagulls in the “dream sequence” of “Sail Away”) is one of the most memorable elements of The Artist & The Scientist. Rarely does a tune come off without some clever hitch, some digital blip or squawk of feedback that gives you something to remember, as well as something to look forward to in the next track. Add to this an ear for classic pop melody, and you’ve the makings of an intriguing listening experience, which Gilbert achieves in spades here.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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