The Glen Levens
Irish music and more
by Chris Berggren
From the June, 2015 issue
The Glen Levens are a classic example of a band that exists not out of necessity but out of desire: its members all have solid day jobs but just can't stop getting together to play the music they love.
The band started out in 2012 as a jam session among neighbors: guitarist and accordionist Kevin Devine, keyboardist and mandolinist Laura Oeschger, and Laura's husband, Brent, on drums. Bassist Jerry Hancock and guitarist Dave McDaniel completed the lineup. Fronted by Kevin and Laura on vocals, the band is adept at Irish, Americana, rockabilly, bluegrass, and rock. Their Irish repertoire makes them especially popular around St. Patrick's Day, and this year the Glen Levens were booked at three venues in a four-day period. I caught them at the Wolverine State Brewing Co. on March 14.
The show was a fantastic blend of traditional Irish classics, under-the-radar gems, Devine-penned originals, and free-flowing surprises. It began with an original instrumental called "Glen Leven Strathspey" that set the tone and served notice that the band was well versed in the Irish genre. The first set featured classics like "Whiskey in the Jar" and "Three Drunken Maidens" mixed in with covers of songs by Fleetwood Mac and the Decemberists, as well as another Devine original, "Pint of Rye Ale." The highlight came at the end of the set, however, when Devine sang a stirring version of "The Chemical Worker's Song," made famous by Newfoundland folk-rockers Great Big Sea, with just Brent keeping time on the drum.
Devine is particularly good at handling the Irish accent, and he sang lead on the more traditional numbers, while Oeschger's voice is more tailored to country-tinged songs. In the second set, for example, she sang a terrific version of Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses." The two lead vocals also blend well together and give their sound a depth.
Another charming aspect of the Glen Levens was how loosely the show flowed. There was a set list, but the band didn't follow
it after the first few songs, instead openly discussing among themselves what to play--�jumping around their list or incorporating songs not even on it. Perhaps the highlight of the second set was the Irish song "I Am Stretched on Your Grave." Though Laura warned that they'd never rehearsed it as a group, the song came off perfectly. Then, as the band fraternized with the audience between the second and third sets, Devine noticed two fellow musicians: Evan Pratt, saxophonist for Hullabaloo, and Karl Diez, a trumpeter who books the Yellow Barn. "You got your instruments?" Devine asked. They did, and he invited them to "come play with us." And so the first four songs of the third set featured an unanticipated horn section, before the Glen Levens wrapped things up with the Dropkick Murphys' "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," "Danny Boy," and a glasses-in-the-air toast with the a cappella "Here's a Health to the Company." Overall, it was a highly enjoyable night of music from a great local band.
The Glen Levens are back at the Wolverine State Brewing Co. on June 20.
[Originally published in June, 2015.]
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