Frankie Lee: American Dreamer

review lee x1 cong

… and coming up on the inside is this contender for album of the year, though it takes one or two plays for its many charms to become apparent.
This is an excellent, if low key, album, somewhere between Stevie Nicks (for the vocals) and Mark Knopfler (rootsy country with gentle guitar noodling) for the tunes.
Lee (he’s a bloke, despite the sound of the vocals) has a life that any troubled artist would die for: born near the Mississippi and raised in Minneapolis, he took to music after his father, a musician, died when Frankie was 12. He hung around with musicians and learned to play the instruments and records he inherited after his father’s death. He dropped out of college to take to the road playing, arriving in Austin TX via Nashville. He got a job making furniture for Townes Van Zandt’s son then headed for LA, where he met REM and U2 engineer Patrick McCarthy, who taught him how to record music.
He returned to Minnesota and worked on a pig farm while he wrote more songs. This is his debut album.
The beauty of this music is that it’s from a man who’s had time to think. It’s slow and unhurried, as if the hours and days he’s spent thinking about and writing the album has taught him that good things can’t be hurried.
He’s got a charming and earthy sound. While vocally he sounds like Nicks, there’s some acoustic, dusty Springsteen / Neil Young in here as well as Knopfler’s country meanderings.
Standout is the superb Black Dog, a mid-paced tune with guitar suggestive of mellow Neil Young. One of our standouts from last year was The Barr Brothers, and this has the same kind of groovy, rootsy feel to it. The track after, Buffalo, is somewhere between Tom Petty and Creedence Clearwater Revival and also excellent.
The opener, High And Dry, is a more standard rolling country tune; there’s banjo and fiddle, and lines about the well runnin’ dry and growin’ your own food.
Track two Where Do We Belong has a more metronomic beat and laments developers destroying the identity of small towns.
Queen of Carolina is a world-weary tune that’s from the Richard Hawley school of gloomy country while East Side Blues is a slower, bluesy song with mournful guitar, which the interweb informs us was the first take of the first song he recorded for the album. Then it’s Black Dog, the standout.
The album closes with the piano-led title track, somewhere between U2’s October and a Springsteen narrative, all about the futility of one’s dreams being based on money alone.
At first listen it’s a rather gentle album but only a few plays reveal it to be far more powerful; Lee has just realised that you don’t have to speak loudly or quickly to make a point.

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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