Thursday, January 10, 2013

Chris Lee Returns To Bury The Kings

Chris Lee
For some time now, singer/songwriter Chris Lee from Charlotte, North Carolina, seemed to have fallen off the radar. It has been a long nine years since the release of Cool Rock in 2003.

But that doesn't mean that Lee has been idle all this time. He started a family and took a “real” job with the New York Times. He also focused his attention on creating (and starring in) an impressive multimedia musical theater piece called Red Fly/Blue Bottle, which premiered in New York and received critical acclaim.

At the same time, Lee still played when he could. This included some jam sessions and experiments with his long-time collaborator Steve Shelley (better known for his role as the drummer for Sonic Youth).

Chris Lee mounts a comeback after a near decade.

It took almost a decade, but the now Brooklyn-based troubadour is making a comeback with his fourth full-length album. Bury the Kings was released on Shelley’s Vampire Blues label, with an outing that features some backing musicians with impressive resumes. Shelley, of course, plays drums.

Some other supporters include David Nagler (John Wesley Harding, Jon Langford) who tackles keys, as well as brothers Aaron and Joey McClellan (both of Blacklight Rumble) who take up bass and guitar, respectively.

As a Vampire Blues release, the album was recorded and mixed at Sonic Youth’s legendary Echo Canyon West studio in Hoboken, N.J. Shelley handled production and Ted Young mixed. Young is well known. He has mixed and/or engineered albums for the likes of Andrew W.K., Alice Cooper, Kurt Vile, and The Whigs.

The song Bury the Kings is what gives the EP its name. The standout here is Lee’s bluesy, jazz-infused voice along with some warm, soulful keyboards.

Like this song, none of the eight tracks really have much in common with Lee’s three previous albums, except maybe one element. Lee has always had a stirring voice and it comes into play on Chris Lee (2001), Plays And Sings Torch’d Songs, Charivari Hymns, And Oriki Blue-Marches (2001); and Cool Rock (2003). As for the rest, Lee trades poppy chords for a more organic, soulful and sparse sound.

Through it all, however, expect the best element to remain intact — the always distinctive voice singing introspective and honest lyrics. It's exactly what Lee is known for.

Antony Flew is the quite possibly the strongest song on the EP. What makes it all work is how smart and tasteful the composition is, with some impressive Wurlitzer work that lets Lee’s voice be the focal point. A few months ago, he posted a cool control room iPhone mix of the song.

There is more to check out. Bonnie Brown Yes is a subtle tune propelled along by a twangy acoustic guitar, Shelley’s understated drumming, and Lee’s pleading voice. Don’t Go Back Again is slow and soulful. Aubade is warm and jazzy.

Across it all, Shelley does a fine job finding the “sweet spot” for Lee’s voice while keeping the vibe and tone of the EP consistent and refreshing. The instruments never overstep their bounds, and there isn’t a weak cut on Bury The Kings.

Bury The Kings By Chris Lee Rolls In With 5.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

No surprise, the always affable Lee has been getting solid reviews for his compelling live performances, which provide an intimate connection between the singer and his audience. He’s also been making the rounds opening for Shelley’s talented Sonic Youth bandmate singer/guitarist Lee Ranaldo and his band (which Shelley also plays drums for) and the venerable Jayhawks.

Bury The Kings was released as a digital download on iTunes and vinyl LP at Barnes & Noble. You can also find Bury the Kings across all formats on Amazon. You can stay up to date with Lee's various outings on Twitter or visit Vampire Blues, where his next release will be announced first.
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