Americana Highways presents this video premiere of Mara Levine’s song “You Reap What You Sow,” due to be available in January, from her forthcoming album Facets of Folk (Belt Buckle Records).
The video was was produced and directed by Bell Buckle Records CEO/Founder Valerie Smith. “You Reap What You Sow” video pays homage to the song’s bucolic beauty by featuring scenes of Levine filmed amidst sunflowers and wildflowers, interspliced with creative storyboarding and self-shot socially distanced footage of each of the song’s musicians, including bluegrass stalwarts Greg Blake (Guitar, Harmony Vocals), Mollie O’Brien (Harmony Vocals), Rob Ickes (Dobro), Andy Leftwich (Mandolin), Mark Schatz (Bass), and Scott Vestal (Banjo). In addition to the artists appearing in the video, Bob Harris, who co-produced the track with Levine, plays guitar on the recording.
Here are some questions we had for Mara Levine. The video appears just beneath them and her responses.
AH: What inspired you to start playing music as a kid?
ML: As a child in the 60s, my parents often listened to folk and classical music. In particular, we listened to a radio show every Sunday afternoon called “Woody’s Children.” My father taped this program every week, so we had a whole catalog of that music to listen to, and re-listen to.
I always loved to sing and in my mid 20s I joined a Barber Shop Chorus, the Millstone Valley Sweet Adelines, for two years, where I learned harmony, but I was always drawn to, and always felt compelled to sing folk music, and then I began to actively pursue singing folk music. The music you listen to as a child, I think, somehow imprints itself on your psyche.
Since then, I’ve sung with a number of other musicians and groups. After my first album Mara’s Gems was released and was well-received in 2009, I was very motivated to continue recording and I released two other albums, Jewels and Harmony in 2013, and Facets of Folk in 2019, both of which hit No. 1 on the Folk Alliance International Folk DJ charts.
AH: Who are your biggest influences, and why?
ML: Musically – Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Si Kahn are three of the folksingers for whom activism was a part of their daily lives and the music served their fights for justice. For my latest album Facets of Folk, I selected a number of songs of social conscience with themes of taking a stand, making a difference, considering the treatment of others and becoming a better person. I was inspired by the current political and social challenges facing us today, and thought a great deal about the importance of speaking out against injustice, both societal, and for people in our lives who are being wronged.
Vocally – Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, and Linda Ronstadt are some of the artists who have the best and most beautiful tone and I aspire to have that sort of timeless clear, well-enunciated vocals.
Harmony – I’m drawn to it and prefer to sing with others and make beautiful harmony arrangements. Herdman, Hills and Mangsen; Peter, Paul and Mary; CSN; and Simon and Garfunkel are some of my biggest influences when it comes to my love of harmony singing and my love of creative vocal arrangements.
AH: What are you currently reading/ watching?
ML: I’ve been watching a lot of news coverage and mostly watching programs on line. I like nature programs and science fiction movies and shows. Most recently I watched “The Queens Gambit” on Netflix and earlier I watched “The Tiger King.”
AH: What else is keeping you busy during Quarantine?
ML: I worked on my taxes earlier in the year, I’m isolating at home with my elderly parents, who have health conditions, and have responsibilities here. I’m also a jewelry designer, but I’ve always done live jewelry events, which have been cancelled, so I am preparing to get my jewelry on line.
I spent a good deal of time working on my new music video “You Reap What You Sow” and I am doing a few on line performances. I watch online performances of other musicians. I am a member of the Local 1000 musicians union and, as a volunteer, I contact other members to see how they are doing and advise them of resources available to them.
AH: You’ve enjoyed a lot of success, particularly among the folk community, over the years, what do you attribute that to?
ML: I attribute this to several factors, including my ability to select wonderful songs, produce beautifully- recorded projects and beautiful live performances, and the support of other wonderful co-producers and musicians, to my perseverance over the years to promote my music to Folk and Bluegrass Radio and to the DJs and presenters who have been supportive of my work.
Regarding the success of my albums, I attribute it to choosing great material, the people who helped me make great recordings in the in the studio, including Manny Krevat on my first album. Additionally, Bob Harris, who played a huge role in the beautiful production in the studio on my last two albums –engineering, mixing, guitar playing, and assisting with arrangements – and John Guth for additional assistance engineering, instrument playing and arranging and mixing as well both allowed me to work hands on as co-producer to see my vision to fruition. I also attribute my album success to the many wonderful musicians who joined me either playing or singing with me – in particular my frequent touring partners Gathering Time and my duo partners Caroline Cutroneo and Terry Kitchen.
AH: You just signed your first national recording deal with Bell Buckle Records – Congrats! How will this help your career?
ML: My goal in joining Bell Buckle’s family of artists is twofold – to help me reach a wider audience with my music, while also exploring other genres and diversifying my style. After working independently for many years, I’m so excited for this opportunity. Bell Buckle Records is the perfect team to assist me with getting my music out to a much broader audience. I am deeply rooted in folk music, however the past few years I’ve been studying and doing some performing and recording in the bluegrass genre. I love that Bell Buckle embraces multiple genres and, under their mentorship and support, I can see myself growing musically and working on projects that cross over between folk and bluegrass. Valerie Smith, CEO of Bell Buckle Records, makes beautiful music videos, and during the pandemic, we can focus on getting my music out this way.
It’s certainly a truism that in life, you reap what you sow. Follow Mara Levine at exploring this concept here in her splendorous bluegrass interpretation of the song originally written by Susan Shawn. Find the song here: https://maralevine.com/buy-music