BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
When Phil Lee sings the blues, the emphasis is often more on humor than heartbreak. Witness “It Can’t Hurt,” the live bonus track affixed to Lee’s latest, The Fall & Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love, and its saucy monologue to boot. And while the album boasts a tongue-twister of a title, the music is anything but, mostly down-home homilies sung with a Dylanesque drawl and an authentic aw-shucks demeanor.
Blues and Bluegrass share space with jaunty shuffles, easy saunters, swampy narratives and rough-hewn ballads, an eclectic mix fueled from Lee’s back story as a go-fer for Neil Young, an associate of producer Jack Nitzsche, a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and a steady presence in bars and juke joints from here to yonder. Veteran producer Richard Bennett cultivates Lee’s everyman persona without detracting from his no-frills delivery, but while dobros, washboards, fiddles and banjos provide backwoods embellishment, it’s Lee’s raspy vocals, gutbucket guitar and wailing harmonica keep the proceedings grounded. “Cold Ground,” “What Your Baby Wants” and “All You Need” bring humility to the proceedings, but it’s the soulful saunter and stirring gospel-like chorus of “I Hated to See You Go” and the sepia-tinged hue of “The Hobo’s Girl” that allow Lee to revel in his roots.
DOWNLOAD: “Cold Ground,” “What Your Baby Wants,” “The Hobo’s Girl”