Doug Levitt “Edge Of Everywhere”

Doug Levitt, 2023

Levitt’s 12-year and 120,000 miles sojourn across the U.S. by Greyhound bus results in one of the most important albums of the 21st century.

artwork for Doug Levitt album "Edge Of Everywhere"Doug Levitt, born in Washington D.C. was a London-based foreign correspondent for both CNN and ABC, filing dispatches from such places as Iran, Rwanda and Bosnia when, in the midst of a breakdown realised that if he didn’t commit fully to music now he never would. Shortly after making this leap of faith and moving to Nashville he set off on his first Greyhound bus tour with only a guitar and a six week bus pass. Through the next 12 years and 120,000 miles he would take advantage of this cheapest form of transport across the U.S. that serves the poorest in the community, to meet those that society had pushed out to the margins, hearing their stories and giving a voice to those that so often go unheard. Much like Woody Guthrie over half a century before, Levitt has been motivated by the increasingly deep inequalities that exist in his home country and through his transcendental journey has captured within each of his twelve songs the very spirit and heartbeat of America better than anyone since the great dustbowl poet himself.

Levitt has a rich baritone voice as smooth as quality bourbon and is a fine exponent of the guitar but other than an unquestionable commitment to the cause, what he really brings to this project, what gives him such an edge are the skills transferred from his former employment and the ability to accurately relate the true life stories of others through his voice. So whether it be that of petty thief Tony Rhodes from the opening track ‘Cold Comfort’, or Brenda who lost her job and then her house as told in the title track ‘Edge of Everywhere ‘ Levitt is careful to allow each protagonist to tell their story in their words. Therefore there is little in the way of poetic embellishments or added colourful prose, and though occasionally this might create a slightly stunted lyrical narrative it is more than compensated by a heartfelt honesty and indisputable authenticity. This again is truly evident in ’40 West’ which tells the story of Susie, in her early sixties, who uses the bus to travel around the states collecting rigs and driving them back to the Gulf Coast. Then there’s Berta who witnessed his friend murder ‘Buddy Gray’ the ‘Good Samaritan’ that had helped them both when they had nothing. Here, as on all the tracks Levitt avoids delving too deep, never asking for more than is freely offered up but rather with a deft skill for song structure allows each track to become a snapshot into another world. So, as with Ellis, an ex serviceman struggling to adapt to the isolation of civilian life and Eduard who many years ago violated his parole living life on the run, all of life is here on the bus, its passengers the ultimate refugees of the road, the definitive prisoners of the white lines on a never-ending freeway, all looking for their very own crossroads somewhere in the darkness on the edge of town. And yet there is nothing maudlin here, no self-pity instead this collection of songs are both cathartic and inspiring with an underlying theme of hope resonating through every syllable, a true testament in song to a sense of belonging and connecting in the face of uncertainty.

The album has been produced by multiple Grammy Award-winner Trina Shoemaker whose previous work includes albums by such luminaries as Brandi Carlile, Josh Ritter, Sheryl Crow and Emmylou Harris as well as having won a Lifetime achievement Award from the Americana Music Association. Around these songs she has created the perfect soundscape to support each individual story, never intrusive, always allowing the intimacy of two strangers swapping stories to resonate with just the right amount of atmospheric tension and release that gently supports the narrative. Together with Levitt, Shoemaker has helped to create a body of work which is so much more than just a record as it fully encompasses the broader project of telling the story of a forgotten America, one not necessarily full of poetry and grace or even sardonic wit but rather one of hard-earned respect and trust where cautious smiles momentarily distract from the ageless scars. Back in 2018 the BBC World Service made a documentary of Levitt’s Greyhound journey that garnered so much interest that a further two documentaries are planned for later in the year both of which will include excerpts from ‘Edge of Everywhere.

‘Edge Of Everywhere’ is like no other album you will hear all year, or for that matter have possibly heard for many years. Yes, it does probably help to know the back story, just as it probably helps if you’ve ever travelled by Greyhound bus, my own personal experience is forever etched on my mind, but in truth neither are truly necessary as each of the twelve songs are strong enough and delivered so expertly to stand on their own, and as a collection they help shine a momentary light on a hidden world. Levitt’s time and effort to this worthy cause has been a monumental success and must go someway to exorcising his own personal demons but in truth it is the characters at the heart of each story that are the true heroes as they try to escape the ‘Nowhere’ from which so many who travel by Greyhound bus have come and many others are travelling too.

10/10
10/10

About Graeme Tait 121 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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