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Music Review - `The Horse He Rode In On` by Phil Lee (jh)

Phil Lee -  The Horse He Rode In On (click on image to watch video)

02 July 2019 


Visit Phil Lee’s website and the subhead will certainly give one the impression that this is an ambitious project – “Brand New Songs!  New Versions of Old Favorites! Tearjerkers and Houserockers For All the Family!” The title draws its name from the presence of two of Lee’s friends and neighbors from Neil Young’s Crazy Horse – drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot.  Together with Lee, who plays guitar and harmonica, they are the core trio that’s augmented by a “cast of thousands.” They include legendary keyboardist Barry Goldberg (Electric Flag) and  guitarist Jan King who play on most tracks with this impressive list of guests on select tracks – Richard Bennett, Bill Kirchen, Bill Lloyd, slide guitarist David West, long-time cohort keyboardist Jack Irwin, guitarists Dorian Michael and George Bradfute; and singers Molly Pasutti and Taryn Engel.  Yes, this is one ambitious undertaking and as you’d expect with the presence of Crazy Horse, it’s more about the feel and groove than about precision. If it comes off as sloppy in places, that’s just fine.

The core trio laid down the basic tracks and let the rest of them “fill in the holes” Jake Berger and Pete Anderson add guitars to one track too. So, there was plenty of messing around even though Lee got seemingly frustrated with all the attempted fixing, exclaiming “It’s Crazy Horse, not Tidy Horse for Christsakes.” Some have compared Lee’s vocals to Tom Petty but regardless of who he may sound like, importantly he sounds real. There is no pretension here. Sure, it’s a bit of a throwback to classic rock transformed into roots music but Lee’s a veteran who knows his way around a tune. He hasn’t put out a record in ten years but clearly poured his soul into this one.

These dozen tracks feature several standouts. The epic “Bad for Me” might be the best example of the chemistry between Lee and his Crazy Horse buddies. He describes it like this, “It’s a personal song anyway but I dig how we played as if we were all buying into it and all mad as hell by the end. And heartbroken, Wild and mercurial and nowhere near perfect. It starts out low key and confidential but because we cut it live and can hear each other and feel the emotions, the song was gradually able to build to a seething, guitar-smashing crescendo…It’s this soul-deep empathy that keeps Big Daddy Neil coming back for more. They feel it like you feel if they aren’t phoning it in. It’s not about the paycheck.”

Lee remakes one of his biggest tunes, “The Mighty Kind of Love” in a rather somber, self-reflective way. “Turn to Stone” and “Wake Up Crying” ply similar ground. “My Man is Gone” has Goldberg on boogie-woogie piano and Bradfute and King dueling on guitars. The most country-sounding song is the George Jones-like “I Don’t Forget Like I Used To” while “Rebel in My Heart’ is restrained rock n’ roll with King pulling off some piercing guitar licks. Lee will induce a few laughs on these tunes as well as on  the hilarious Jerry-Reed-like“Party Drawers” with lines like – “I was kickin’ down some doors/I was in party drawers/Where were you when all of that was going on?”

The narrative tale of “Sonny George,” one of the bonus tracks is a must-listen too, yet another strong example of Lee’s stellar songwriting. Yes, the Mighty King of Love is back. In the spirit of Rust Never Sleeps, Lee, like his bandmates, is proving that’s it’s better to burn out than fade away. 


Jim Hynes



Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here




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