Chris Lee's 'Cool Rock'
Chris Lee has suffered too long under comparisons. Reviews have
mentioned the late Jeff Buckley, Colin Blunstone, and even Ryan
Adams, as much for Lee's singular voice as the sharpness of his
songwriting. Such is the fate of a "new" artist. Perhaps now, with
his third album, Cool Rock, only weeks from the record bins,
the sound-like comparisons will stop. He wears a mustache now, after
Cool Rock will be released by Misra Records on June 3rd.
Featuring the drumming of Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley (who released
Lee's last album, Chris Lee Plays & Sings..., on his Smells
Like label), and mixed in Nashville by Marc Nevers (Lambchop, Will
Oldham), Cool Rock is the third installment in a series that
Lee describes as "love songs in C major." Let's hope the series has a
dozen more installments. The songs are catchy, rich, and relaxed,
with a Southern ambience.
Unlike Lee's self-titled debut (Misra, 2000) and 2001's Chris Lee
Plays & Sings..., Cool Rock includes the vibraphone player
Yusuke Yamamoto, adding a summery gauze in places where Lee's former
albums sounded spare. The result is golden: with better support and
tighter songs, Lee's voice relaxes and soars even further.
"I'm trying to write more on the level where the song plays itself,"
Lee said during a recent interview. "I'm constantly telling my guys,
you don't need to play the song, you have to let it play you. That's
a real weak, clichéd way of saying it, but the song should
play itself, and that's what good songs do."
The album's eight tracks include the stand-out, restless and
sparkling "Sail On," and two gorgeous ballads for the warmer months,
"Say It Ain't Soul," and "Lately I Want You." Surprisingly, the
album's most triumphant and sublime cut is a cover: somehow, Lee
squeezes out all the pain from Mississippi John Hurt's "Nobody Cares
for Me" and finds sweetness in the remains.
Maybe now, in the old age marked by his third album, it just comes
natural to Lee. As he told us, "Everything becomes easier as I get
older." And, may we say, better.
Lee is scheduled to solo-tour the United States this summer. Tour
dates and locations can be found at his Web site . Rosecrans Baldwin
[Tuesday, May 27, 2003]