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 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. And 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,” (the newest album from Adam Lee released in summer 2016) is a vulnerable departure from the deeply worn traditions of rockabilly music that Lee played in the youtube videos I’d found.
My mind was blown to find that on this album, Lee defies many of the stubborn rules of his old genre. 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 new and more interesting here.
The melodies on “Sincerely Me” often wander from the traditional paths cut by old honky tonkers and roots rockers. Lee’s songs begin to remind me of those from Mike Ness and Social Distortion. Lee’s voice, though clearly influenced by heroes among the classic country crooners of yore, is uniquely his own and it remains distinctively country – sometimes revealing tones of Buck Owens and other times Junior Brown.
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 on “Sincerely Me” Lee gives us a glimpse at some genuine heartache and history. Lee grants listeners an almost uncomfortable glimpse of himself as his songs confront the personal demons he’s spawned with 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 said.
Then Lee offers a sad and beautiful twist all his own to the stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype in “When she Danced” and from its first strains one can sense a deep and eerie personal connection that lures listeners into the darkness along side him.
On this album, Lee coins some 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 for so long) 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 with 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.
This album is a surprising departure for Lee – and in departing, he has left the ever swelling wave of faceless rockabilly acts who stay so close to the tradition that they can’t be differentiated from one another.
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