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Rick Lee Links:

Rick Lee

    Rick Lee
    There's Talk About a Fence
    1999, Waterbug Records

Rick Lee looks out from the CD cover, tall and imposing, no mustache, gray hair growing wild from the fringes of his head, with a patchy-looking long beard flowing from the fringes of his face as he plays a banjo. One could imagine him as the leader of a fundamentalist, banjo-playing cult if you were not familiar with his work. Fortunately I was already hooked on his music after hearing his last release Natick. I knew that I would soon be hearing his comfortable, resonant voice singing a mix of traditional and contemporary songs.

The album starts with "Bear," a song by his guitarist Andy May, about a bear contemplating crossing an icy river. Lee’s piano helps create a feeling of wonder and drama in this simple story, and May’s arrangement is a thing of understated beauty. The next song is Chuck Brodsky’s wryly humorous "The Come Heres and the Been Heres." The songs that follow range from traditional folk songs written by contemporary writers to fresh arrangements of traditional material.

Rick Lee has the gift of being able to straighten out the wrinkles of the archaic phrasing found in much traditional material with the warmth of his voice and his emotional connection to the words he is singing. "Daemon Lover" [this link is to a .wav file on the Waterbug Records web site] is a good example of this. His banjo playing is extremely expressive and subtle, taking you to the heart of each song. The effect is to simultaneously make each song personal and archetypical. Perhaps the most powerful of the songs is "Lunatic Asylum," written by two patients in an asylum in the 1970s. It is just Lee and his banjo making you feel the patient’s desperate and lonely hope in the face of a harrowing experience.

There is not a weak song on this album—there doesn’t have to be. Lee is a collector of music as well as a songwriter. He only chooses songs that move him and he has the ability to move the listener as well. Not that it is all serious stuff; he closes the album with "Don’t Pet The Dog," an ode to oversexed and misdirected little dogs!—Michael Devlin

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