Who exactly is Phil Lee and why does he matter? Well, if you read his biography he’s been a “Zelig” type figure on the “scene” for several decades now. Drumming, roadying for Neil Young, throwing knives, bootleg running and God knows what else. He’s invariably dressed as a cowboy dude, looks scary enough to scare the pants off of Phil Spector , kind of a cross between Killer Bob in Twin Peaks and Phil Kaufman, raconteur extraordinaire, the man who scared Charlie Manson and stole Gram Parson’s corpse and set it on fire in the desert.
So now we know a little bit about Lee, why does he matter? Well, over the course of several albums he’s captured what may be the true sense of Americana, able to toss songs off with just an acoustic guitar that stand alongside the likes of John Prine (see the title song to You Should Have Known Me Then), hit the honky tonks with tremendous truck driving stories, dig a southern soul groove or get deep and dirty with the blues. He does all of this and he does it with style. Irreverent, profane (radio stations beware) and above all laughing at the cosmic irrelevance of it all, Lee is a Maverick who , at the end of the day, simply makes fantastic records and thrills audiences at his live shows.
The Fall & Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love showcases Lee’s love of the Americana idiom with a brace of songs that embrace country, folk, blues and soul while his self mocking humour is apparent from the start with the cover art featuring him seated with the splendidly tattooed Ruth Buckler. While he scatters this self same wit through some of the songs it’s in no way a comedy album. While Every Time , an old fashioned folk skiffle of an anti love song has the immortal line Every time I see you nude, I wanna give your number to another dude and others of a similar ilk it’s a fine number that one could imagine Dylan carrying off when he was a bit of a joker in his early NY folkie days. Speaking of Dylan That’s All You Need is a dead ringer for the man circa Infidels.
Lee kicks the album off with the gospel tones of I Hated To See You Go, co-written with Barry Goldberg (another Dylan connection there) before shifting into the infectious chicken strut that is Blues In Reverse sounding like The Fabulous Thunderbirds with an insidious sexy slink in their walk. Cold Ground’s harmonica playing roots the song in 70’s songwriter territory as Lee sings convincingly of bereavement as his character desperately seeks for ways to turn the clock back and return his lover. It’s almost back to the fifties for the swoonful drama of The Hobo’s Girl although the excellent band playing gives the song a punch with George Bradfute’s slide guitar standing out. I Like Everything harks back to the past as well with cheesy organ giving it a 60’s feel as Lee runs through a salacious list of his girl’s attributes with undisguised glee. A little bit mambo, a little bit Tex-Mex describes the excellent ditty that is She Don’t Let Love Get In The Way and again the guitars shine with producer Richard Bennett excelling on Raquinto. Overall Lee has picked a fine bunch of musicians here with Ken Coomer on drums and Dave Roe on bass in addition to Bennett and Bradfute. Together they easily inhabit the different styles on show while Lee himself is no mean singer.
The album closes with a taste of Lee unplugged and live as he entertains a crowd with It Can’t Hurt, a fine example of his uproarious live show. Good news is he’s coming over in the summer so keep an eye open for a chance to catch him. And while you’re waiting mosey over to his website where he gives a song by song rundown of the album that truly captures his essence.