The music of Bill Lee (né Gillim) has changed considerably since the dark devotional tones of his experimental project, Megafortress. If Believer, his last record in 2014, glimpsed a songwriter inching out from the abstract, Lee’s debut under his married name reveals him coming into absolute focus, unflinchingly vulnerable, steeped in family life and Americana’s past. His falsetto has grounded down to his chest; his instrument of choice is the guitar; its immediacy shapes to his schedule as a stay-at-home father. Believer’s psychic searching has now settled quietly in a living room in upstate New York. Lee’s mind hasn’t rested, though.
It’s a natural and charming musical pivot, performed across Songs For The Family, his new collection of finger-picked, band-backed noir folk/country songs “populated by lost fathers, exhausted mothers, wayward children, and fearful lovers.” There is a crucial tenderness — as Lora Mathis coins it, “radical softness” — to these songs. Mathis says, “be close to your friends and make sure they know you love them and will fight for them.” These songs are fighting for love. A 21st-century troubadour’s document of what could and should be championed; narratives about dynamic families accessing diverse emotions, flawed characters embracing failures and learning how to “stick close to (their) tenderness.”
In advance of his release show this weekend, Lee shares a slow-moving picture for the sweet generational hymn “Family.”
He also compiles and presents episode 72:
“These are some of the songs that really struck me during the three years I was making Songs For The Family. I found myself returning to them again and again. As you can see from the names on the list, I wasn’t really digging into the obscure. They’re just some of the most beautiful, melancholy songs by some pretty big names.
There’s Elvis’s ode to his recently departed mother. Sinatra’s tale of a small town husband left alone to raise his two young sons. And Willie Nelson’s phone call to his ex detailing the ruins of the happy family life they once shared. There’s a wonderful, heartbreaking melodrama in many of these songs that, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to get enough of.”
J.J. Cale – Starbound
Elvis Presley – That’s Someone You Never Forget
Bobbie Gentry – Courtyard
Mickey Newbury – I Don’t Think Much About Her Anymore
Waylon Jennings – Dreaming My Dreams With You
Willie Nelson – Little Things
John Prine – Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone
Fred Neil – A Little Bit Of Rain
Frank Sinatra – For A While
Etta James – I’d Rather Go Blind
Tammy Wynette – My Arms Stay Open Late
Merle Haggard – Train Of Life
Tom T. Hall – Homecoming
Michael Nesmith – Keep On
Willie Nelson – Some Other World
Neil Young – Little Wing
The Neville Brothers – A Change Is Gonna Come
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