The song is sonically and lyrically much stronger than the first single ‘Woman (Oh Mama)’ as well as being more representative of the album as whole. The song itself speaks of someone who is willing to walk through the fire; to feel all the pain, hurt and loneliness, no matter how bad it becomes, in the effort to move forward and heal all the brokenness inside. The outcome is a song that is very visceral, raw and honest.
The song is a definite departure from Joy’s previous work in terms of lyrics, instrumentation, production and imagery. It is also quite different from The Civil Wars in terms of its heavy production and lack of organic instrumentation. Heavy production can sometimes overwhelm or suffocate a song but in this case the production and effects add to the story and emphasise the lyrical imagery; giving the song an atmospheric quality.
The song is lyrically full and creates a very intense and dark backdrop, which is very much reminiscent of the darker stories and imagery The Civil Wars were capable of conjuring up;
“I see a ghost out on the water/ I swear it has my face/ I bend and drink the lonely down, the lonely down.”
These lyrics bring to mind past songs by the duo such as ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and ‘Barton Hollow’, which evoke the Southern Gothic/ Americana vibe that Joy Williams and John Paul White seem to be effortless at creating.
The layering of vocals, the production effects and the chorus of vocals all surge and swell like a river, until the lyrical crescendo where acceptance and the act of letting go takes over.
“I’m gonna stand here in the ache, the ache, the ache/ So go on and let it break/ Take all I can take.”
The song is incredibly cathartic for both the listener and Joy herself particularly when performed live, which I had the opportunity to witness last week when Joy performed at Islington Assembly Hall.
Those who are familiar with The Civil Wars will be in no doubt about Joy’s vocal prowess or her ability to take the listener on an emotional journey. ‘Until the Levee’ however, takes this to a new level of stripped down rawness and vulnerability. There is no veil to hide behind this time; the mysteriousness that The Civil Wars cultivated is no longer there.
The song, in my opinion, epitomizes the words spoken by record producer Sam Philips in the film Walk the Line,
“If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in the gutter, and you had time to sing one song. One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. Cause I’m telling you that’s the song people want to hear. That’s the song that truly saves people.”
‘Until the Levee’ – written by Joy Williams, Paul Moak & Tom Douglas
produced by Matt Morris, Daniel James & Charlie Peacock
mixed by Mike “Spike” Stent & mastered by Ted Jensen