A new album from Phil Lee is cause for celebration, a musical Maverick perhaps but as Blabber’n’Smoke said in the review of his previous album, “he captures 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, hit the honky tonks with tremendous truck driving stories, dig a southern soul groove or get deep and dirty with the blues. Irreverent, profane and above all laughing at the cosmic irrelevance of it all.” And so it is with his latest, Some Gotta Lose… the title coming about as Lee explains in a recent interview with Blaine Schultz., “Mainly I got the idea from never having a snappy come back to the query, “you’re so dang fabulous (I paraphrase) how come it is I’ve never heard of you?” (That with the implication it’s somehow it’s my fault. The noive)…My pat answer became ‘Hey, some gotta lose’.”
It’s this sense of not taking himself too seriously that endears him to many but deep down Lee is seriously stewed in rock’n’roll with a back history that would make a fine biopic peopled with the likes of Neil Young, The Burritos, Wilco and Alison Moorer. Above all he’s a gifted songwriter and his albums should never ever be filed under humour despite the occasional joke.
Produced by Willy Mason Some Gotta Lose… is a wonderfully warm and loose limbed album. Recorded pretty much live, warts and all in a house in upstate New York Lee visits the blues, country, soul and even tango with his band hitting a fine groove throughout. Drums rattle and guitars buzz and burn, the organ glowers and Lee’s hipster voice is accompanied by female harmonies on several of the songs. The groove is important with Lee explaining that the live recording set up allowed the band to stretch out at times trying “telepathically to figure out who should play a solo or just hang out.” There’s some bum notes apparently but the overall impression is of a bunch of musicians cutting loose and having a great time.
The album opens with the Southern soulfulness of Ain’t No Love with guitar licks aplenty summoning up a swampy rhythm before harmonies and harmonica glide in. Halfway through the song picks up tempo as the band riff on the melody while Lee sings the chorus before taking it home. There’s more Southern grooves on Don’t tell me Now with Lee getting lascivious with an ex who has blossomed into a catch whose “breasts got fuller and kiss got sweeter.” Lee and the band plead wonderfully with yearning guitar echoing his sentiments as the song meanders to its end. Sex rears its head again on No Taking It Back only here Lee is hesitant in the moment of triumph, pondering the aftermath while the churchlike organ drenched This One is another soulful meditation on a past lover that is bitter sweet in its Muscle Shoal type delivery. Lee ends this song on harmonica as the organ swells taking it into Stray Gators territory.
Wake Up Crying is a zippy Dylan fuelled 60’s blast sounding like an outtake from Highway 61 with Bloomfield like guitar bursts and there’s some real retro rockabilly on the cover of the traditional Lil Liza Jane. Kiss Of Fire is an audacious tango with Lee playing up to his comic persona but even so its compelling listening. Finally, there’s the country lament of If Frogs Had Wings, a fiddle sawing away offering comparison to Dylan again, this time circa Desire. A death row prisoner’s final thoughts with Peckinpah imagery thrown in it’s simply fantastic.