Plays & Sings Torch'd Songs, Charivari Hymns & Oriki
Blue-Marche, which Chris Lee co-produced with Sonic Youth's Steve
Shelley, shows more maturity and self-assurance than Lee's self-titled
debut of last year (on Misra Records). The production has an overt
sense of confidence: some tracks are multi-layered, with relaxed
horns, vocal harmonies, extra keyboards or guitar; others are strong
and simple, just bass, guitar and Lee's voice.
And God, that voice: often compared to Jeff Buckley, Al Green or Nick
Drake, Lee's singing is masterfully sincere, at once longing and
grateful, wistful and pained. The best way I can describe his voice
is that it has no affectation; if it's possible to sing honestly and
richly, in both tone and lyrics, Lee's found it.
Yet despite his talents in singing and songwriting, it's not easy to
define Lee within a single genre, and I want to. When I'm telling
people about the album, I want to say, here, try this, you'll love
it, it sounds exactly like _______. Unfortunately, no one fits the
blank. There are suggestions of his history in the independent scene and many nods to his Southern heritage. I could describe him as "American," but what does that say? Tracing a heritage back to the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder, his
songs are smart and popular: sad, relaxed melodies, hooking choruses,
bridges transforming into strange, polished passages.
After people hear this album, I ask them how they'd describe it. The
most popular response has been "Good ol'-fashioned songwriting."
Getting past the nostalgic connotation, it's not a bad term it
means the songs are pleasurable to listen to, they move and involve
us emotionally, they surprise us and give us a place to rest.
Achieving these ambitions proves Lee is good; doing it his own way is a step toward greatness.