Heartfelt Songs Draped in a Gossamer Veil From a Modern Day Grievous Angel.
It’s kinda funny that I spend so much time on Social Media sounding grumpy about the amount of albums I get sent to review, sometimes even overwhelming me ….. then when I heard earlier in the week that Frankie Lee was releasing an album which I hadn’t been sent; I got all ‘pissy’ and fired off a sarcastic tweet on the subject …… which then elicited an apologetic e-mail from the Record Company and an immediate download (plus ensuing CD).
Sorry everyone; I don’t ever mean to be ‘precious’ …… just some days the ‘dark clouds’ take their toll on me.
Enough about me ……. the music, the music, the music!
I loved Frankie Lee’s AMERICAN DREAMER album back in 2015, and still dust it off occasionally for a play late at night. Sadly young Mr Lee got a bit lost in the euphoria that greeted his peers at that time, Sturgill Simpson and Sam Outlaw (plus someone else I can’t think of) and as quickly as he arrived on ‘the scene’ he skedaddled back to where he came from, which was a huge shame.
A quirky squeak opens the delightful Speakeasy; a velvet fog of a love lorn Country Song; with Frankie firmly grasping the ‘successor to Gram’ mantle that I alluded to with AMERICAN DREAMER; and the inclusion of a flute towards the end is fascinating and rather exciting in it’s own way too.
There’s something really exquisite about Lee’s voice, but when I write down ‘Mid-Western, nasally and heartfelt’ it certainly doesn’t do it justice; but it’s certainly distinctive and perfectly matches the imaginative and well drawn out stories in his songs; with (I Don’t Know) John being a perfect example of a song that ‘shouldn’t work’ but will stop you dead in your tracks when you least expect it; perhaps not even on the first three times you play this album; but it will, one day.
All of the songs here are as tightly wrapped as I’d hoped; and I love it when a songwriter from across the Atlantic Ocean can capture my own feelings with their words and deeds; just as Lee does with the mournful In The Blue, Downtown Lights and Blinds too; which are all Classic Americana draped in a gossamer veil.
Obviously music, like all of the Arts is subjective; but I have a real soft spot for the darker edges of the format; especially in Country and Americana Music and I’m happy to tell you Frankie Lee appears to have been listening to as much Elton as he has Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson in the intervening years; with the piano led In the Blues with it’s cinematic orchestration and the stunning One Wild Bird sounding like they could be outtakes from Tumbleweed Connection (one of the greatest albums of all time btw).
As I’m sitting typing; it’s just dawned on me that this just might be the ‘Americana Album’ that Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen keep trying to make but fail miserably; as nearly all of the stories here are ‘blue collar’ and about ‘the working man (and woman) in one way or another; but here the judicial use of a pedal-steel and Lee’s distinctive vocal styling really, really tugs at the heartstrings in a way Bruce and Neil can’t any more. These tales are all believable from start to finish.
Because of the time restraints I mentioned at the beginning I’ve only played STILLWATER three times; but two songs have caught my attention above all else; the dark and edgy Broken Arrow with Lee’s angry acoustic guitar and drums juxtaposed against a stinging steel guitar and a melancholic harmonica could and should be my Favourite Song (Mrs. Magpie hates it!) but I’m deferring to her better judgement in such matters and selecting the final song Ventura for this prestigious accolade. Another song around a fairly simple piano structure but, wit the occasional inclusion of a howling harmonica that should far the senses, but never does and the powerful lyrics found me holding my breath and staring at the speakers in virtual disbelief.
Frankie Lee’s back and basically sounds the same sad and wistful self as three years ago ; but now with a much tighter and occasionally dreamier ‘sound’; to some degree reminding me of everyone from Gram Parsons to Elton John, Springsteen and Buddy Holly at one time or another; but always and ultimately Frankie Lee ……. his time has come!