Music News

Phil Lee

Usually when the lives of "white trash" are evoked at all, they're played for laughs (Southern Culture on the Skids springs to mind), some particularly degenerate brand of tragedy (Will Oldham), or both (any number of Bloodshot Records bands). Phil Lee, on the other hand, works the expected trash stereotypes -- trailer parks, violently jealous lovers, etc. -- but in songs that are free of the expected condescension. Funny without being derisive, tragic without any Deliverance allusions, The Mighty King Of Love very nearly advocates for the truth, the human complexity even, of poor-white fears and desires. "A lot of people won't live in trailer parks," because, Lee sings at one point, "they got nasty little younguns and cars on blocks." But it also turns out they have lives -- imagine! -- and so there's "no need to be snobby nor to be unkind." Like the Bottle Rockets and a few other acts working the turf, Lee assumes this idea as his basic lyrical premise. In fact, when he sings of the trashy charms of his Cajun girlfriend in "Les Debris, Ils Sont Blanc," he's just as much singing of himself. Or at least he presents it that way, a choice that goes a long way toward eliminating the illusion of separateness that breeds condescension in the first place.

Yet none of this addresses the album's chief strength: That is, The Mighty King of Love rocks. The Telecasters blaze, the drums go nuts without losing the groove, the harmonica sounds as if it's on loan from the Boss. This is the album some have been praying Joe Ely would make ever since the end of the David Grissom days. And the louder you play it, the better it gets.

Lee ain't the king of anything, really, but he knows what he wants and isn't giving up. Just as important, he's got a band that plays with such confidence and loose freedom that you'll feel just like you're going to be a winner someday, too.