Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Country Boy, Albert Lee’s signature song, describes a city slicker longing for Country credibility. Support act Hayley McKay must be able to relate; after all her birthplace of Darlington does not seem the obvious place of origin for an aspiring Country/Folk singer. Yet McKay’s spooky Gothic reinterpretation of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, not to mention her self-penned sparse but melodic tunes, shows that she has what it takes.
It is something of a surprise to see the stage set up for a full band. After all, the concert has been promoted as a solo/acoustic/farewell tour. The presence of drums, keyboards, bass and steel/pedal guitar as well as Lee’s very obvious electric instrument goes to show one should take publicity with a pinch of salt. The way Lee tears into the opening number, Ready Willin’ and Able to Rock’n’Roll All Night, with the ferocity of a man half his age seems to belie the rumours of retirement.
The format for the concert is simplicity itself. Lee selects tunes from the groups of which he has been a member and the artists with whom he has worked. He avoids the obvious; The Everly Brothers are represented by Sunshine Smile rather than one of their bigger hits. It is as though Lee does not want to cheat and generate an emotional response by picking favourite songs but prefers to excite the audience purely by the musical abilities of the band.
The approach is inspired. The songs, by the likes of John Stewart and Rodney Crowell, are lyrically taut but musically substantial enough to sustain extended solos and improvisation. As well as covering his entire career Lee jumps across a wide range of genres –Rock, Country and Rockabilly.
Lee is not a selfish performer. His confidence in his own abilities is such that he cheerfully allows his band to share the spotlight and John ‘JT’ Thomas’s keyboard dominates the cover of Ray Charles’s You Better Leave My Woman Alone. Lee does, however, face a real challenge (and one he seems to relish) from charismatic Pedal/Steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar whose duels with Lee are a highpoint of the evening.
The need to squeeze in his most well known numbers means that the second half of the evening becomes a bit predictable (apart from the surprising inclusion of the sentimental 18 Yellow Roses). But this is the type of show one rarely sees these days- expert musicians playing great songs with passion. It is hard to recall enjoying a show more in recent months. Albert Lee takes you back to the days when concerts sought to switch off your brain and engage your emotions and the experience is wonderful. Long may he run.
Reviewed on 29 September 2015