The Lee Boys
Evil Teen Records
BluesWax Rating: 8 out of 10
Steelin’ In The Name of the Lord
About fifteen years ago, the world was introduced to an exciting musical form that emerged out of several House of God branches of the Pentecostal Church. These churches starting using the pedal steel guitar in place of the organ as the driving force behind music for worship services. Dubbed “Sacred Steel,” Arhoolie Records released recordings by Aubrey Ghent, Sonny Treadway, Calvin Cooke, and the Campbell Brothers that gave listeners a taste of the emotional power that the best players could generate. Soon another steel player, Robert Randolph, burst into the limelight, eclipsing other practitioners by mixing rock and jam band influences with his amazing skills on the guitar to gain worldwide acclaim.
The Lee Boys missed being part of that initial wave of attention and excitement. Randolph did record two of their songs for The Word, his initial release done with John Medeski plus the North Mississippi Allstars. But the Lee Boy’s first major label release, Say Yes, came out in 2005. By then, listeners had moved on to the next big thing. Despite good reviews and an exciting live show, the Lee Boys failed to garner the widespread recognition accorded Randolph.
That should change in a hurry once people get a chance to hear their latest release on Warren Haynes‘ Evil Teen label. The three brothers, Alvin on guitar and backing vocals, plus Derrick and Keith on lead and backing vocals, have tightened up their vocal presentation and when they unleash their secret weapon, nephew Roosevelt Collier on the pedal steel guitar, the results are electrifying! The rhythm section consists of two more nephews, Earl Walker on drums and Alvin Cordy Jr. on bass, lead and backing vocals.
“Smile” is a strong opener with a positive message and a hint of Collier’s potent playing. The band will get your pulse racing on the original gospel rave-up “Going to Glory” that finds Collier echoing the gritty lead singing. Haynes joins in on the traditional hymn “I’m Not Tired,” sharing the lead vocal while his guitar trades licks with Collier and Matt Slocum on piano. The track also adds a brawny horn section consisting of Mark Mullins on trombone, Jason Mingledorf on tenor sax, and Brian Graber and Barney Floyd on trumpet. Haynes squeezes off some fine slide guitar before Collier sets off on a blistering solo that demonstrates the majestic power his nimble fingers can create. The horns and Haynes are also present on “Praise You,” which has some fine harmony vocal work leading to another off-the-hook guitar conversation between Haynes and Collier.
Another guitarist with ties to the Allman Brothers Band, Jimmy Herring, appears on two tracks. His biting slide solo on “Always By My Side” nearly equals the creativity from Collier that follows. The title song mixes praise with a deep funk groove with Slocum on organ adding an extra layer of church to the proceedings. But the highlight once again is Collier’s unrestrained picking that builds to a cathartic finish.
The brothers let Gia Wyre take the lead on “Wade in the Water,” and producer Matt Grondin slows the pace so that the focus stays on her voice which rings out with devotion. Then Collier fires off soaring licks on the pedal steel to make his own soul-wrenching statement. Grondin gets the opportunity to show off his guitar talents on “Feel the Music,” a song hampered by generic lyrics that still manages to excite when the group slides into an energized portion of the arrangement that recalls the best of Sly & the Family Stone.
“Sinnerman” includes a nod to Stevie Wonder as the group again showcases their articulate harmonies and the horns propel Collier into another memorable solo sequence. And the group does save the best for last. They take their time with a tune from Andre Crouch, “We Need to Hear From You,” as the family lifts up their plea for God’s intervention. Just short of the three minute mark, they turn Collier loose to spin an astonishing array of sounds that highlights his ability to use his guitar to reach deep into the human soul.
Some listeners may refrain from giving this one a chance due to the Lee Boys staying true to the religious aspects of their music. The lyrics they sing may address sacred themes but their music is designed to get your body up and moving in joyous celebration. This one comes highly recommended!
Mark Thompson is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
About the Author: