According to Bob Dylan, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest were the best of friends. But the artist behind American Dreamer has nothing other than a name-check in Dylan’s 1968 number one in common with the seminal heavy metallers from Birmingham. In fact, it’s the decade-spanning troubadour himself who has clearly had the most profound impact on the soulful Mississippian’s sound – you can’t really miss it.
But let’s not be unfair – pretty much anyone with a guitar and a voice is influenced by Dylan, and Lee’s life story couldn’t be much more authentic. Born in Mississippi, raised in Minneapolis, Lee developed and kicked a drug habit which started with medication prescribed for narcolepsy; more recently, he has been working on a hog farm in rural Minnesota to get the songs together for his debut album.
And they’re strong songs, very difficult to dislike and bathing for the most part in a languid, laid-back Americana with heartfelt lyrics delivered by Lee’s honeyed-sandpaper vocal chords. The general pace is gentle, from the sunset folk of ‘Queen of Carolina’ – complete with harmonica solo – to the nightcap blues of ‘Horses’, and the mood is unchallenging and familiar. That will be comfortable for some, but is very much like reading the same book cover to cover two hundred times, or a solid sequel to your favourite film; pre-disposed to like it, you will have no problems getting on with it, but it’s not going to take you outside of yourself or carry you anywhere you haven’t been before.
The faster pace of ‘Where Do We Belong’ injects a refreshing indie urgency and ‘Buffalo’ bustles across the Deep South treading cowboy paths past the ranches, but the standout track is right at the start. The wonderful ‘High and Dry’ balances the best moments from elsewhere on the album into something which fits into the canon which inspired it, rather than sitting next to it looking in. At the other end, the title track closes the album with a wistful slice of piano-led balladry which leaves the record with the line “I was thinking that the world was gonna change” – this is not the album to make that change, but as a soundtrack to sitting back, whisky in hand, and watching other people do it it is more than satisfactory.
Words - Joe Ponting
Frankie Lee official
American Dreamer is out now via Loose