Gabe Lee – Drink the River
Even Jesus got the blues.
That’s one hell of a timely tag Gabe Lee has on the second track of his mesmerizing, relistenable album Drink the River, which features a wholesome folk sound reminiscent of Nickel Creek, Jason Isbell and especially the late John Prine. With those kinds of influences, how can you go wrong?
Lee’s sound has a front-porch feel. It’s raw and honest, with organic, stripped down accompaniment. Take the title track, for example, which features gorgeous harmonies by Sophie Gault, haunting pedal steel by Rusty Danmyer and gorgeous mandolin work by Eamon McLoughlin. Recorded at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville and co-produced by Lee, Alex Torrez and David Dorn, “Drink the River” is just one example of how Lee’s album captures the very essence of the heartland, warts and all.
These aren’t codependent love songs. They aren’t one-dimensional, either. Lee has put the work in on himself and he’s put the work in on structuring beautiful arrangements and heartbreaking lyrics. You learn so much about who Lee is from each song. You also learn about many characters who have come and gone in his life. There are snapshots here, like in “Even Jesus Got the Blues.” He makes it easy to visualize the moment and the person: “Easter morning, Tennessee/she come draggin round the bend/hooked on OP40/barely alive/She come heartbroke and looking for a ride.”
All the songs paint powerful pictures, especially “Merigold,” where Lee doesn’t hold back at all, taking a page from Isbell’s “Elephant,” and letting the truth be told about the emotional toll cancer has on loved ones: “Her cancer gave no warning dug its roots into her ground/wild as the kudzu on the highways of the south/Barely time to dream of better days to get you by/she was gone in the blink of an eye.”
The range of emotions on Drink the River’s nine songs says a lot about Lee’s emotional maturity and his depth both as a person and a songwriter. “All I Can Do is Write About It” is one of my favorites. It captures the pride he has to be one of Tennessee’s own, and what that means to him. He’s grateful for his travels, he’s grateful for his experiences, he’s learning along the way, but he’ll always be a boy from the heartland, and that heart – no matter how many times it breaks – can ever be taken from him.
Many of Lee’s songs strike deep, but he also has a lot of fun on this record. There’s no better example of this than “Property Line,” which sounds unapologetically like Prine. It’s playful, witty, colorful and contagious. It’s the song you’re most-likely to find yourself singing along with. It’ll bring you up and leave you hopeful.
Additional musicians on the album include Jason Roller (guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo) Lucciana Costa, backing vocals and dobro, and McLoughlin (fiddle). Gabe Lee plays acoustic guitar.
Drink the River was mixed by Brandon Bell and mastered by Eric Conn. It’s now available wherever you stream your music. For more info on the artist, go here.
Highlights: “The Wild,” “Drink the River,” “All I Can Do is Write About It,” “Property Line”