Phil Lee – The Fall & Further Decline Of The Mighty King Of Love – Palookaville Records

by | Feb 14, 2013 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Phil Lee – The Fall & Further Decline Of The Mighty King Of Love – Palookaville Records PAL13 (2/26/2013), 46:11 ****1/2:

(Phil Lee – guitar, harmonica, vocals; Richard Bennett – guitar, washboard; George Bradfute – guitar, fiddle banjo, organ; Dave Roe – bass; Ken Coomer – drums; Jen Gunderman – organ, harmonium; Tom Mason – dobro, vocals; Peter Cooper – vocals; Kent Agee – vocals; Joy Lynn White/ David Olney/Chris Wilson – concerned funeral attendees)

While Nashville assumes its prominent stature as Music City, not all of the singer-songwriters fit this template. In the past, this mecca has endured strained relations with folk heroes like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, only to embrace them later. In this tradition of free spirits, Phil Lee may be a fit. Described as a “knife-thrower, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant”, his career highlights read like a warped, Beat Generation country/blues rebel. Included in the resume is driving a truck for Neil Young, playing in an early ‘70s band with Beverly D’Angelo, a soundtrack gig with Jack Neitzche, and a spot with the re-formed Flying Burrito Brothers.

Lee’s music draws on folk, country, rockabilly and blues inspirations. His raspy vocal style and weird contexts have drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan and John Hiatt. Amazingly, he was nearly fifty when he broke through with the hard-rocking King Of Love. No longer a secret, Lee became a cult figure and continued to tour and record.

The Fall & Further Decline Of The Mighty King Of Love is another unconventional album from Nashville’s favorite maverick. The opening track (“I Hated To See You Go”) is a straight ahead rockabilly blues number. But the subversive humor (…”I gave you 20 bucks for gas…It felt good to say goodbye…”) makes this song stand out. Lee’s voice is “tenor-like” and very effective. A gospel chorus provides some additional texture. On “Blues In Reverse” he cooks up an eerie swamp groove with some echo-laden guitar riffs.  “Chloe” exudes a countrified vibe that is meshed with a gritty musical flow. The band is tight and the backup vocalists (The Taryn Engle Singers) are sprightly, near heavenly.

Lee has a keen ear for traditional folk constructs. “Every Time” is walking blues at its finest, with banjo accents, acoustic slide and images of “leavin’ trains”. But when Lee looks into his lover’s eyes…he sees “rotten meat and buzzin’ flies”. “All You Need” combines folk guitar and Dylan-esque harmonica riffs with accessibility. At heart, he is a romantic, but a very sarcastic one (“…Some girls get diamonds, some get pearls…but you get me, you’re the Hobo’s Girl”). There is an inherent sense of rhythm in his music. “I Like Everything” is vintage rock and roll, like earlier versions of “Suzy Q”.

With a variety of styles, Lee is comfortable with Louisiana/Mexicali (“She Don’t Let Love Get In The Way”). His band is right there with him. Whether it’s Delta blues (“What Your Baby Wants”) or jaunty country folk (“Let Your Mind Roll On”), his character is persistent. For those curious about Lee’s live performances, “It Can’t Hurt” is full of anecdotal banter and humor.

The Fall & Further Decline Of The Mighty King Of Love is worth checking out.

TrackList: I Hated To See You Go; Blues In Reverse; Chloe; Cold Ground; Every Time; All You Need; The Hobo’s Girl; I Like Everything; She Don’t Let Love Get In The Way; What Your Baby Wants; Let Your Mind Roll On; She Don’t Let Love Get In The Way (Reprise)

—Robbie Gerson

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