Country Troubador Lee impress, Dream Jurnal gets down and dirty live
It’s smoky in T-Bones Sports Bar like it always is. The Saturday crowd is buzzing with college football and cheap beers and greasy appetizers. Not a lot of seats are empty in the place and some stand in front of TVs or the bar.
In the back of the room comes a voice, a strong one, sure and tuned to a deep, growled voice. Most of the crowd perks up and looks his way. For the next two hours, Robert Lee plays songs from his latest album, Wandering Soul, as well as covers of Jason Isbell, Tom Petty, and the handful of his own albums that came before this one.
Wandering Soul starts off creatively. We hear someone seeking through an old radio, not able to find anything on. Our main character is on the road the whole journey, whether he’s looking out of the passenger window, bathed underneath the neon of Broadway or in a bar of his hometown. But there’s an angst and loneliness of our narrator.
“I sit down at Harry’s Bar / toasted with folks from back home / Funny how in a crowd I can still feel alone,” Lee sings in the album’s opener, “The Road.” In “Watch the World Die,” an incredibly impressive guitar solo is the highlight of the track in a strongly mature and polished country song. Lee’s been doing this a while and you know this immediately after hearing this one.
Lee tackles corruption, the criminal system, snitches and the mischievous characters in “American Dream,” a Springsteen-like tale of people getting caught up in the wrong in a world that’s only fit for the ones who work hard and keep their mouth shut. From top to bottom, Lee proves he can write a damn song. In “Wildflowers” he sings, “Tell me what part of you has come undone / Your eyes are like wildflowers that stare down the sun.”
Another thing a listener notices is how much editing Lee had to do to cut this record down to just ten songs. Every song is full and thoughtful, well-worn, road-tested and road-ready.
I can go on and on about Lee and how talented of a songwriter he is. Performer, as well. But I’d run out of room and would still be gushing like a fanboy. I’ll end with this: He’s one of Chattanooga’s gems, so I strongly suggest you listen up and go see him before we lose him to a bigger city or just that old road itself.
Live at JJs
A live album should have energy. It should capture what it feels like to be in a room with an artist or a band. It should feel loose, feel messy, sound crunchy and less than perfect. The easiness of the words and music should be performed with more confidence as the set goes on.
The nerves start on the first two songs and then they start to get in a rhythm, get used to the room, get the audience’s attention.
Dream Jurnal gets just about all of this down in their new release, Live at JJs. The set was recorded in mid-February by Erik Simpson with the help of fellow singer-songwriter Rachel Barr and John Cotton.
The set starts off with a fast and over-before-you-know-it song called “Monster.” Things start to get interesting in the next two tracks when “You’re Dark Character” and “You’re Going to Die” are contracting in their lyrics but similar in the melodic tones and conversational style of the lyrics. In the first, Simpson sings “We’re so alive that we can’t die,” and in the second, “You’re going to die, all alone.”
From optimisms to such pessimism is tough to pull off, but Simpson and Barr do it seamlessly and confidently. Simpson keeps it dark and somber in “Song #1,” a song about his burial, full of silver dirt, vermin-filled hearts and beautifully dark imagery.
The album rounds off with slower ballads like Barr’s “Star Dust” and their collaborative “Long Forgotten Things.” In the latter, both harmonize a lost love who is trying to find their way while the narrator is trying to find his or her own, both singing: “Where did you go when you’re alone, did you make it home? Will you ever make it home?”
Hope returns in “Right On Time,” a song that alludes to the often forgotten pretty things in life, the simplicity of the sun going down in the western sky, things that can be left behind after we leave. The songwriting is personal and furnished in Dream Jurnal and we look forward to the time when they put out a studio produced album.