Adam Lee is restless. “I’ve never been comfortable sitting still,” he notes, in the midst of preparing his debut solo album, ‘Sincerely Me,’ for release August 26th. A varied and engaging collection of songs, the record finds Lee constantly in motion. He criss-crosses genre and influence, always sure of his footing, yet unwilling to remain planted in one spot. Adam Lee is a man moving forward. Moving on. ’Sincerely, Me’ reads like a goodbye note. A farewell to home.
A departure indeed, but that’s something he’s used to. The son of an Air Force officer, Adam Lee spent much of his youth in transit. Music, however, was a constant, and a childhood spent moving state to state, and sometimes country to country, prepared him for a life traveling on the road. “I grew up saying goodbye,” he says, “and it teaches you to appreciate what’s on the horizon.”
Initially writing folk and alt-country, he fronted Kansas City-based Adam Lee & the Dead Horse Sound Company. Their first album ‘Ghostly Fires’ was released in 2008. The band committed to a more traditional country and western sound for their second album, ‘When the Spirits Move Me’ and logged many miles supporting the 2010 release. Lee’s time in the honky tonks paid off; he was nominated for one of Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan Awards and found homes for his country songs in feature films (writer/director Kevin Smith’s Red State and TUSK).
He’d soon found a new home for himself as well — on the Broadway stage. In 2013 he moved to Chicago after being offered a leading role in the Tony Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, under the musical direction of Chuck Mead.
Lee’s wanderlust informed his writing as well, and he soon began crafting songs not tied to a style, but to a feeling. They make up a large portion of the material on ‘Sincerely, Me,’ his first solo album. “I just tried to put the best songs I’d written on the new record, the songs that moved me most, regardless of genre.” In woodshedding the new material he spent much of the past year on the road. He played shows with Frank Turner and Chuck Ragan. He completed his second European tour. He kept writing and soon, he found himself in the open-ended world of Americana.
His mutability is readily apparent throughout ‘Sincerely, Me,’ and he continually plays with genre, style, and influence. ’Sing With Me,’ is a raucous, punk inflected anthem, working to reconcile youthful and rebellious optimism with sobering adult realities. This song leads directly into ‘Patrick’ a fatalistic and tragic tale of two brothers, laid upon a sparse backdrop of Irish-styled fiddle and banjo.
The most country song of the collection, ‘What I Need,’ comes across more tragedy than two step, a deceptively upbeat confessional, uncluttered from all the smoke and neon. Underscored with upright bass and saloon-style piano Lee sings “I’m patient, and I’m thoughtful, and really, really insecure/ but I’ve found ways to make it worse.”
All told, ‘Sincerely, Me’ is a strong and diverse debut, a record reminiscent of a life spent in no one place in particular. Roots-rock songwriter Justin Wells sums up this sentiment. “Somebody’s gonna file this album under Americana, but that's because Adam Lee isn't a genre… it nods at several American musics without knowing the meaning of derivative.” In that context, the album title could be taken a different way. ‘Sincerely, Me’ is Adam Lee at his most honest, his most vulnerable, and ultimately, his most engaged. A restless mind put at ease not by comfort or consistency, but by forward momentum. Adam Lee is heading somewhere, and even if we’re not quite sure of his next stop, we’re happy to come along.
With a closet full of boots, a heart full of wander and a soul full of songs, the charming and multi-talented Kentucky “Wonky Tonk” woman releases her debut album Stuff We Leave Behind in hopes of continuing her Wonky ways with a lighter heart in lieu of finding the Neverland in all of
Jasmine Lorraine “Wonky Tonk” Poole grew up in the hard scrabble portion of the American heartland. Kentucky, to be precise. Her world of loss and longing is familiar terrain for lovers of country, bluegrass and folk music but, just as Kentucky can be viewed as a bridge between north and south, Wonk’s music blends elements of Indie/Alternative rock with old school country. It’s hard to separate the wonk from the tonk. Nor should you try.
Wonk’s influences, John Prine, Guy Clark, Modest Mouse and Loretta Lynn among them (especially Loretta), are apparent but her music is not derivative. Loretta, Skeeter Davis, Iris Dement and Jenny Lewis come to mind but none of her comparables quite pin her down. Wonk is her own cowgirl. “Cowgirls get up in the morning, decide what to do and do it”, she was told as a child. Fiercely independent but naturally shy Jasmine uses her alter ego and blue cowgirl boots to deal with the notion of impossibly cruel but equally exhilarating existence.
One byproduct of youthful innocence is a constant disappointing, bewildering surprise:
You used to call me baby
You used to call me darlin’
Now you don’t call me at all
Another is vulnerability and manipulability:
In the greasy ballroom
You whispered in my ear
Darlin’ life is a gamble, romance a drug
The whole world is dancin'
Won’t you give in and love
Her eleven song debut release Stuff We Leave Behind deals with the necessity of moving on at critical points in your life. Stuff that once seemed important must be cast aside, ex-lovers relegated to the shadows. “Heartbreak makes the jukebox play”, she was once told. Her song titles reflect her wandering spirit and a fascination with time and place. “Cleveland." “Denmark." “Tennessee." “Montague Road." A veteran troubadour at such a tender age, Wonk has toured Europe with the same restless drive as her native Northern Kentucky.
Tom Robbins told us that even Cowgirls Get the Blues but all is not remorse and regret. Jangly sunshine pops through the clouds unexpectedly, such as in “Parkland Avenue” (arguably the best track). Though softly. Without the glare.
Wonk’s lyrics are worth a read even without the music. The album tracks her evolution as an artist and a person. The gravel, rutted road to an emerging wisdom.
Tennessee didn’t you hear
Money’s not real and neither is fear
Pay attention to Wonk. Not just because she is talented and beautiful. Pay attention because she has an important purpose. To help you remember. To help you forget. Or to help you remember why you chose to forget.
With love from Kentucky,