We’ve mentioned before on several occasions that we are huge fans of the irreverent Phil Lee. While his albums are always a pleasure to listen to, he adds his impish sense of fun to much of what he records, giving them an added sparkle. In addition, he has a fascinating back story and so it’s not too much of a surprise to read that his latest album, a smashing collection of songs done in an old-fashioned country style, was influenced by his tenure (aged 12!) as the drummer for Homer A. Briarhopper’s band on an early morning TV show back in the 60s. Sounds made up? Well, according to Google it’s true.
It’s a lockdown album, recorded with just Lee on guitars, harmonica and drums with producer David West adding electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, keyboards and a wealth of other instruments. Most of the songs are Lee’s own with a couple of traditional numbers thrown in for good measure. They’re all short and snappy with Lee saying he wanted to make an album his mother would like and which “white people could dance to.”
The album kicks off with a classic country two stepper, Did You Ever Miss Someone, with West’s Dobro and mandolin already demanding attention while Lee sounds just perfect as he relays his loss. Coming in at under two minutes it’s a perfect opener. When’s The Lovin’ Coming Back has more of a trucker’s feel to it with West laying down some fine humbucking guitar licks and I Like Women digs into Western swing with Lee getting away with not being too salacious. He does however inhabit the lyric with fervour on a highly infectious song which, one again, is greatly energised by West’s numerous guitar parts while he also provides the backing vocals.
Might As Well be Me slows the pace down as Lee sings a brilliant down at heel story of a luckless musician on the road. While it’s not exactly Nashville countrypolitan in its delivery it is classic country and is up there with the likes of Charley Crockett and Joshua Headley’s reclamation of classic country sounds. Next, there’s a dive into the real old Americana as Lee tackles a Child ballad on The Devil And The Farmer’s Wife and again, he does it brilliantly with banjo and mandolin bravely plucking away. Forever After All retains the mandolin as Lee almost gets sentimental on a tremendous number which follows a couple from their wedding day to the twilight of their years. It tugs at the heartstrings while having an unalloyed heart of gold at its centre. There’s also a great degree of sentiment on the tale of a broke up family on Where Is The Family Today which finds Lee touching on John Prine territory.
Daddy’s Jail is a fine shit kicking slice of rock’n’roll and apparently recalls Lee’s youth when he was a bit rambunctious while his father ran the Durham County jail in North Carolina. Wake Up Crying appeared on Lee’s previous album, Phil Lee & The Horse He Rode In On, recorded with his old buddies, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina of Crazy Horse. There it was given a vintage 1960s Who like charge, here it’s delivered as a rollicking banjo driven bluegrass number with West magnificently parrying with himself on the various solos. The album closes with an excellent version of Just A Closer Walk With Thee, a song Lee says he has wanted to do since seeing Harry dean Stanton sing it in Cool Hand Luke but sung here in an Elvis and The Jordanaires gospel style. It brings this excellent album to a handsome close.