This is the latest from the mighty king of love as Lee likes to be known and it is a winner. He recorded this album in New York with Willy Mason in the production chair. They used a select set of players to deliver a relaxed set that is at times soulful and jazzy, but soulful and jazzy in a very Phil Lee style. Lee posses an expressive and distinctive voice, that in a sea of soundalikes is something to savour.
The songs are full of his usual observations of ageing, wondering, loving and listening. They are all written by Lee, except his arrangement of the traditional Lil’ Liza Jane and Kiss of Fire, I Pray it Never Comes and What Can I Do For You? (the latter a short unaccompanied song sung by Jan King that closes the album). There is one co-write with the late Duane Jarvis in Ain’t no Love.
The band settles into a groove that sits under Lee’s lead vocals with some effective vocal choruses. Listen to Don’t Tell Me Now which has a live-in-the-studio feel as he leads them to the song’s end. Perhaps the strangest title here is If Frogs had Wings; a song that makes perfect sense in the nature of ‘if I had you I could change’, something in the nature of “if pigs could fly”. All well except for the line “they’re hanging me a dawn” which introduces an unheard backstory. Overall this is an album where Lee takes some time to look back, to revisit old haunts and homes. In doing so he felt a good deal of sadness and the realisation that what is gone is never going to return.
As with all his music there is a sense of self-deprecation. This is often expressed with humour but not without the sense of love that remains for the people and places that one has known. This is an album that deals with growing up and with acceptance. This also relates to the performances which are full of a human spirit that embraces the mistakes as a part of the whole. The music is warm and affirming and full of little touches in the playing that capture the moment and the sense of players who are skilled and all in tune with achieving an overall vibe that is effusive.
Phil Lee is a troubadour who has weathered his woes and loves and woven them into songs and performances that are best summed up as mighty songs of love and loss. Lee will always fly below the radar and that is something he is well used to. But he can console himself with the fact that his music is as vital to those who appreciate it as it was on first encounter. This could be the best one yet and again is another contender for album of the year. Some gotta lose, but this is a knockout.