Albert Lee, |
(Sugar Hill, 2006)
A friend of mine who is a former New York City session guitarist -- and no slouch on the instrument himself -- shakes his head in pain when someone mentions Albert Lee. "How does he do it?" my friend asks. "How can a British guy move to Nashville and put all the local pickers to shame?"
It's a question I ask myself whenever I listen to Lee play. When he got bored with the British invasion rock scene, Lee packed up, moved over here and within hours, it seems, established himself as one of Nashville's most important guitarists. As a sideman, he played lead guitar in Emmy Lou Harris's Hot Band and toured with the Everly Brothers for more than 10 years. I saw him play on the Everly Brothers' farewell tour. At one point, the brothers left the stage and let the band do a couple of numbers. Lee was so good, so on fire, that a sizeable portion of the audience groaned when the Everly Brothers returned.
One of the secrets to Lee's playing is that, no matter how fast and furious he plays, he is always brilliantly melodic and what he plays fits the song perfectly. He never, like so many lesser players, sacrifices the song to call attention to himself. Lee is comfortable enough in his own skin to let the song speak.
It's an approach that has paid off. In 2004, he was nominated for a Best Country Instrumental GRAMMY and artists as varied as Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton and Jerry Lee Lewis have called on him for studio and road help.
The approach pays off on this album, also. Road Runner collects 10 fine songs. Only one of them, "Payola Blues," is a Lee original, but he has the taste and the chops to cover artists like John Hiatt, Leo Kottke, Delbert McClinton and Richard Thompson. He also brings aboard a strong supporting cast, including his old compatriot from the Everly Brothers Band, Buddy Emmons, on pedal steel and percussion master Don Heffington. Lee gets vocal help -- his serviceable voice isn't going to win awards -- from Bekka Bramlett, Buddy Miller, Jon Randall and Alexandra Lee.
Road Runner isn't a studied album. It hasn't, like so much of the product emanating out of Nashville these days, had the life produced out of it. You can feel the fun the artists had making this music and you'll have just as much fun listening to it.
by Michael Scott Cain