"Who is a guy named Joe Leavy? A Father, a husband, a son, a businessman, a musician. A man who believes in God; who believes in life. A man who believes in love."
With that opening, soul singer Joe Leavy introduces himself on his debut release, A Guy Named Joe Leavy, and it serves as a thesis statement for all that comes after. Not many R&B singers in 2013 would lead with those descriptions of themselves, but Leavy appears to want to make it clear from the beginning that he is a “throwback,” in the best sense of the term.
At first blush, A Guy Named Joe Leavy is not unusual, in that it is an album of love songs bearing a mild 80s groove and aimed at urban audiences. But what distinguishes it from most everything on the current secular market is that here love is not equated with “hooking up.” It is about a deeper, sacrificial love that he posits as more fulfilling but that requires much, much more work. Like Kindred the Family Soul, Leavy speaks of the kind of love that ebbs and flows over years, sometimes frustrating, sometimes joyous, but always still there.
Radio is filled with songs about the thrill of the initial meeting or the sadness of the breakup, but “We Go Up” (featuring Julie Morris) puts its focus on sticking it out through rocky times: “You’re not perfect in this relationship/ But baby you are perfect for me. We go up/ we come back down/ keeps our feet on solid ground.” This theme of sticking it out in relationships - even during bad times - is taken to its furthest end in “Skin In the Game,” a ballad that is perhaps the most beautiful cut on the album. On it, Leavy sings of deception and attempted redemption: a man who has violated the trust of his lover discovers what he has lost and pleads for the opportunity to make the commitment needed to restore the relationship and bring it to a deeper level: “I’m laying it out/ I’m going all in. I know the truth is where it begins. It’s all my fault/ I’ll take all the blame. Where there is love, there’s skin in the game.”
One of the criticisms of popular music is its obsession with sex without consequences. Leavy doesn't pile on in those obvious criticisms, but instead flips the focus around, reveling in his role as a father and husband as he dedicates “My Little Ones” to the fulfillment of parenthood: “Every sacrifice and move I make, I’ll do it for you/ I’ll be your best friend and biggest fan/ teach you always love your mother/ stand up like a man.”
Terrestrial radio likely won’t touch A Guy Named Joe Leavy with a 10-foot pole (even though the first single, "I Heart You," sounds like a hit in the vein of The Sounds of Blackness' "Optimistic"). There is nothing hip or edgy about the dirty work of making deep, long-lasting relationships. But, based on the plethora of comments posted on social media, there is an audience out there screaming for music about love that is deeper than the physical. Leavy hits these areas in a way that is neither preachy nor forced. A Guy Named Joe Leavy appears to simply be a legitimate reflection of the artist: a talented singer and songwriter admittedly flawed but with a sense of his place in the world. And it is an album in which many will find something special and real. Recommended.
By Chris Rizik