Defiantly honest stories test the roots of this Kansas City honky tonker’s debut solo album.
BY JORGE KRZYZANIAK | THE NEW TERRITORY ISSUE 03
The first I ever heard of Adam Lee, I was on my couch, in my underwear, watching every video I could find on YouTube like I do every time I find a new band or musician I fall in love with. I’d been told something like, “Check out this guy Adam Lee, he’s got a new album coming. He’s this old-school kinda honky tonker,” and I was sold.
And when that first video with the Dead Horse Sound Co. began to play, there he was, a roots-rocker with a pearl-snap-shirt and a pompadour greased to perfection as he asked, “Did you guys get some of that brisket?”
Going into it, this is exactly what I was hoping to hear.
Of course my friend knew I was going to fall in love with this guy because I love old school honky tonk. Then I got my hands on the album, and it wasn’t honky tonk at all. It wasn’t even any kind of tonk. It was something else, and I love it even more.
The aptly titled Sincerely, Me (Lee’s debut solo album, released in summer 2016) is a vulnerable break from the stubborn rules of rockabilly music that Lee played in the videos I’d found. His honky tonk roots still find their way into the tracks, in certain bits of fiddle and some of the melodies or in a classic country guitar style here and there. But more so, Lee’s creating something more interesting.
Some melodies on Sincerely, Me remind me of those from Mike Ness and Social Distortion. Sometimes revealing tones of Buck Owens and other times Junior Brown, Lee’s voice is beautifully despondent with a unique but distinctively country trill and an occasional note so low that it’s detected vibrating in your heart before it’s recognized in your eardrums as a sound at all.
The lyrics are defiantly honest, and it’s what I find so appealing. Traditionally, honky tonkers tell of almost generic woes with women and booze in their songs, but Lee grants listeners a genuine, almost uncomfortable glimpse of himself as his songs confront his personal demons spawned by liquor and life on the road.
He reveals himself to be an amazing storyteller in songs like “Patrick,” a true, tortured tale gleaned from a Chicago restaurant.
“I thought that story was tragic and beautiful and I read it on the front of their menu on St. Patrick’s day 2014. I set out to write an Irish song,” Lee says.
Then Lee offers a sad and beautiful twist to the stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype in, “When She Danced” and from its first strains one can sense a personal connection that lures listeners into the darkness alongside him.
On this album, Lee coins new proverbs that should have been in our vernacular all along. When he struggles with the realization that the booze that’s served as his sidekick may be the last thing he needs, he admits “I’d probably get a hardon if you showed me a stiff drink.”
Lee is clearly testing himself with this album, calling upon an unexpected piano jam like Ben Folds here, or a Tom-Waits-like ballad there. Then, in a sort of anthem called “Sing With Me” we get a punk-rock breakdown throwing back to his youth, complete with a line about co-signing a case of PBR.
Sincerely, Me is a surprising departure for Lee, and in departing, he has left behind an ever-swelling wave of faceless rockabilly acts who hug so close to tradition that they can’t be differentiated from one another. Jorge krzyzaniak
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