Frankie Lee: American Dreamer

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

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Frankie Lee
American Dreamer
(Loose/Thirty Tigers)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“I was born in a summer storm …” are the first words you hear Americana singer-songwriter Frankie Lee sing on this impressive debut full-length. And those thoughts beat at the heart of much of what drives the remaining 41 minutes. This is summer music of the highest order; not dependent on throwaway tunes or singalong choruses, Lee’s songs swoop and soar with the airy qualities of a warm July breeze and his sweet, expressive voice goes down as easy as lemonade. There are darker concepts too that account for the “storm,” as seen in the murkier figures that run through “Black Dog” and the loner considering a more stable life in “Buffalo.”

Like the Jayhawks, who, like Lee, hail from the Midwest, these tracks arrive fully formed with strumming, spiraling, cascading guitars and organic, easy rolling melodies that seem plucked from the air. Lush and honeyed but with an edge lurking underneath, the rootsy feel is natural and effortless.

The approach falls between early Eagles and Neil Young’s Harvest Moon with a strong whiff of Tom Petty. And while Lee’s talents aren’t yet at the level of those icons of the genre, he has a similar sense of composing hummable songs with sharp lyrics driven by a boyish voice that balances sweet and tart. The easy Latin vibe and Brit invasion guitar bubbling under the beautiful “Know by Now” is informed by a hint of Brill Building songcraft that makes it sway and shimmy in all the right ways.

The drifting electric guitars of “East Side Blues” express all the loneliness of lyrics like “I’m missing my sweet mama/she’s out there on her own,” without Lee having to say a word. The closing title track adds piano and strings to bring a bigger, more dramatic scope lyrically (Lee is looking for a better world), vocally (there is a trace of John Lennon) and stylistically, but feels like it ends too soon. Lee is clearly a newcomer worth watching but don’t let that distract you from enjoying an album perfect for both lazy, hazy, summer nights and sunshiny days.

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