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Phil Lee

The Fall & Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love – 2013 (Palookaville)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Phil Lee

In the 30 years that Phil Lee has been earning a less than decent living with his music, it seems as though he's lived a couple of lifetimes. He's been a drummer, a cabbie, a truck driver, a roadie and, for the past seven years, a pretty decent knife thrower, and he's accrued enough stories in that time to pen a series of Stephen King-sized biographies.

Lee also happens to be a better than average songwriter, although his visits to the studio have been infrequent; he didn't record his first album until 1999, and there have only been 3 more in the subsequent 14 years.

The title of Lee's latest collection of scuffed brilliance is a smirking reference to his debut album, "The Mighty King of Love," and to his less-than-commercially-successful solo career. A couple of spins through "Fall & Further Decline" will inspire an insistently familiar question: Why isn't this guy a bigger deal? Lee's vocal rasp, a hybrid of Delbert McClinton, Steve Forbert and John Prine, is the perfect vehicle for his blues/folk/Americana odes to life's darker moments, from the gritty growl of Blues in Reverse and the loping twang-and-shout of The Hobo's Girl to the folk funeral procession of Cold Ground and the samba swing of She Don't Let Love Get in the Way.

Lee has some high-powered help on "Fall & Further Decline" - longtime producer/guitarist Richard Bennett, ex-Jayhawk Jen Gunderman, ex-Wilco drummer Ken Coomer and singer/songwriter David Olney, to name a few - but everyone's focus is clearly on Lee's wonderfully wrought songs. Few people can write about misery with a sense of joy, but Phil Lee understands the inherent worth of both ends of the spectrum and has a unique way of reflecting that range in his well worn songs.