It takes a truly great singer to take on songs made famous by Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, and Merle Haggard, and turn them into something new. But as she proves beautifully on her second solo album, 19 year old AJ Lee is more than up to the task.
Fresh off being crowned Best Female Vocalist for the seventh straight year by the Northern California Bluegrass Association, AJ is not content to rest on her bluegrass laurels. On her solo debut, A Song For Noah, AJ showed she was an excellent Americana songwriter in her own right. With this self-titled follow-up, she continues to expand her range of artistic expression, paying tribute to some of the founding voices of California cosmic country sound, including Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, Herb Pedersen, Gillian Welch, and Bob Dylan. The results speak for themselves.
Working for the second time with producer Jon Abrams and his hand-picked California country veterans, AJ chose songs that cut right to the soul. Everyone knows AJ’s got the voice. But what stands out on these six songs is her amazingly mature gift to interpret a story, and to flesh out the emotion of a great song. With AJ’s voice guiding the musicians, you feel the angst and loneliness of Dylan’s obscure gem, “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” the bittersweet remembrance of Parson’s “Hickory Wind,” and the hard-won wisdom of Welch’s “Miss Ohio.”
Under AJ’s soaring vocals, the music of the Shady Mountain Band has a timeless sound: the pedal steel of Dave Zirbel (Phil Lesh, Dave Alvin) weaves itself around AJ’s 1954 Martin acoustic and mandolin, while the Hammond organ of Marc Doten (Stew, Shelby Lynne) locks in with the Telecaster and drums of the cosmic country brothers Paul and Anthony Lacques (I See Hawks in L.A.). Anchoring the whole thing is the soulful guitar work and subtle production of Abrams.
Rounding out the sound are high-lonesome harmonies by Angelica Grim Doerfel, Jesse Fichman, and emerging star Molly Tuttle. The trio of female voices harmonizing on Herb Pederson’s “Wait A Minute” give new meaning to this classic about life and love on the road. And listen to AJ on Gillian Welch’s “Miss Ohio,” with its biting lyrics tempered by a seriously deep Americana groove and heavenly harmonies, and you will soon come under the spell of this musical collaboration.