Obviously New York singer Chris Lee was feeling a bit more ambitious when he named his second album, Chris Lee Plays & Sings Torch'd Songs, Charivari Hymns & Oriki Blue-Marches (Smells Like), than when he released his debut last year, simply titled Chris Lee. The first one was a stunner that seemed to come out of nowhere: supported by a deeply in-the-pocket trio, Lee delivered dynamic soul-pop tunes in a voice as agile and powerful as Jeff Buckley's but with a far less baroque delivery. For the new record, Lee's written more loping, elegant blue-eyed soul songs with big hooks, but they're nearly as encumbered by useless flourishes as the album title. The impulse to bolster soul tunes with horns makes sense in theory, but on the album's opener, "Lonesome Eyes," they only weigh the song down, plodding along with the chords instead of offering insightful counterpoint. Lee's voice is still a remarkable instrument, distinguished by falsetto as graceful as a leaf falling to the ground, but he insists on multitracking it, marring gems like the otherwise spare "In Yellow Moonlight," where his acoustic guitar strumming and Jeremy Wilms's sturdy bass line support some nice electric guitar leads. Nonetheless, it's still a pretty strong record. "Slow as the Sun," with its echoes of the Impressions' "People Get Ready," and the delicate "Mount Venus" both match anything on Lee's debut, and a surprising cover of Neil Young's "On the Beach" suggests that if Lee experimented with more tightly coiled, less flashy melodies, his voice would hit that much harder. Thursday, December 13, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Julie Ann Bleha.