Sensory Overload: Singer/songwriter Maria Levitov prepares to spread her wings

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Maria Levitov’s performance at Rumba Cafe on a recent Thursday doubled as the start of an extended goodbye.

“We’ve got three more-ish [Columbus shows],” said Levitov, who was joined on this night by guitarist/backing vocalist Knic Pfost, “and then we’re going to spread our wings.”

The singer/songwriter, who recently released her debut full-length, Hold, intends to spend a good chunk of 2014 touring behind these songs, including a July stop at the FloydFest in Floyd, Virginia, where she’s slated to join a stable of performers that includes Ben Harper, Ray Lamontagne and Lauryn Hill, whom Levitov daydreamed of befriending during one extended monologue.

In her songs, however, the musician was more often parting ways. “I walked away from you,” she cooed on a wintery “Ohio,” her voice buoyed by little more than a few roughhewn guitar chords and the thump of Pfost’s foot tapping out a muted beat. Similar sentiments surfaced throughout her short, 20-minute set, Levitov laying out the numerous reasons she was putting an end to things, singing: “You weren’t giving me enough”; “I’m not ready to settle down”; “Maybe it was my fault.”

The musical backdrop reflected this moody mindset, and the songs tended to move slowly, as though even they were struggling to shake off some deeper depression. Of course, there was a spark of optimism lingering in even these darkest moments, and Levitov made it abundantly clear that her desire to spread her wings was not born of some inner failing, but a desire to cut her own path.

“I moved out of state,” she sang on one slow-burning, noir-ish tune, “I had to find my own way.”

Similar things could be said of opener Mike Reeb, who relocated to Columbus from Chicago after spending much of 2013 on tour. Like Levitov, the folk-leaning singer/songwriter filled his songs with all manner of busted declarations, singing about job loss and death (“It’s Been a Real Hard Year”) and the ways people can change and grow apart over time (“Outside, Not in Here”). On one particularly lovely tune, Reeb, his voice climbing to an airy falsetto, sang about loving a woman so much he had no choice but let her walk away when life started pulling them in different directions — a sentiment Levitov assuredly would have understood.

While Levitov appears ready to drift away, however, Reeb is putting down roots. The musician organized this showcase as part of a planned monthly songwriter series featuring local and national acts, and the next one is scheduled to take place at Rumba Cafe on Thursday, March 20.