“Much Appreciated Lead Guitar by Albert Lee” reads the inner-sleeve credit on “Sweet Little Lisa”, the last song on side one of Dave Edmunds’ 1979 album Repeat When Necessary. Listen to that track in comparison to the rest of the album – which is one of my favorites of all time – and you will hear why Dave was so appreciative. Aside from his work with Edmunds, Albert Lee has worked with Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, The Everly Brothers and countless others during his career, which has spanned six decades.
Our generation is blessed to have too many musicians and too many songs for any one person to possibly know. This is the main reason why, when I invite someone to a concert with me, I want to throttle the living daylights out of him or her when my invitation is declined because “I don’t know what <fill in artist’s name here> is going to play.”
Familiarity with the repertoire does not drive someone to see Albert Lee. One goes to see Albert Lee to be dazzled speechless by his playing, just as I was when I – a snot-nosed little twerp for whom nothing but The Moody Blues would do back at that time – had my musical sensibilities undone by the pub rockers like Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe and Graham Parker and fell in love with “Sweet Little Lisa”. Being dazzled speechless which is why I go see Albert Lee, why I have gone to see Albert perform whenever he’s been near where I am over the last few years, and why I will continue to go see Albert Lee until I can no longer do it.
Albert’s set has not varied much over the past four or five years. That said, the setlist, comprised mostly of covers, is what keeps audiences riveted once the initial dazzling has worn off. Albert’s shows are a testament to the rich heritage of rock & roll and country music – and while it’s all just pop culture, folks, there is not one disposable song in his show – each tune provides a solid foundation on which to demonstrate the talents of Albert and his phenomenal band. As he has each other time I’ve seen him at northern Virginia’s Jammin’ Java, he came out swinging with Fats Domino’s “I’m Ready” and delivered the knockout punch with his own “Country Boy”, which features about five solid minutes of guitar and piano instrumental breaks that amaze and amuse. The infectious groove in the band’s delivery of Paul Kennerly’s “Spellbound” could not be cured by all the antibiotics on the East Coast, and the sense of impending disaster expressed by the protagonist in John Stewart’s “Runaway Train” was palpable, thanks again to the band.
While Albert Lee is best known as a guitarist, his first instrument was piano, and one highlight of his show is his piano-based delivery and arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman”. If his show consisted of that song and only that song, it would have been worth the price of admission, and then some.
At 75, Albert Lee shows no signs of slowing down. Jammin’ Java was packed beyond its ability to seat people on a Tuesday night in January. That said, nobody is getting younger. Next time Albert performs near you, see him, regardless of whether or not you know the songs.
The Cryers, a New York metro area based band, opened the show with a short set. Every rock & roll show is supposed to scar its audience in some way. While the band’s performance was well executed, it did not break the skin.