Rick Lee

Waterbug WBG0016 (1995)

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Judith Gennett (
Bryan, TX/KEOS Community Radio


Rick Lee grew up right here in Texas and picked up banjo listening to the Grand Ole Opry with his grandfather. He has performed traditional and folk music for over 30 years, at times with Lorraine Lee or Solomon's Seal. The town of Natick, Mass. is his current home and provides the title track for this recording. Written by Lee, "Natick" is the story of an Indian tribe, and of the hybrid language invented to communicate with, as well as, introduce Christianity to these "heathens." "Only their shadows remai n." This and other tracks on Natick are well- documented Lee favourites, and range from originals by Andy May and Jez Lowe to Child Ballads. It is on these latter, the traditional tunes, that Lee with his stern Seegeresque voice and vibrant banjo really excel.

My favorites are "Lady Margaret (Child 73)" and "Tam Lin (Child 39)." One can imagine Lee as a colonial bard, traveling the Appalachians with his not-yet-invented banjo, relating stories of eerie romance and magic to settlers. His interpretations of these fine old tunes are stark and clean and fresh. "I dreamed that my hall was full of wild swine/My true love was swimming in blood." Lee also delivers a good version of Mickey McConnell's "The Tinkerman's Daughter" (the story of a tinker woman bought by an Irish farmer; in the end the farmer kills his own son), Jez Lowe's "High Part of the Town" (cheerful comments on English poverty), and a nicely primitive "The Prodigal Son" after "Dock" Boggs... this from the American tradition.

Lee's companion on these "traditional" forays is his own banjo, with perhaps a bit of percussion and it suits his voice well. He is joined on the more contemporary tunes by Andy May on guitar and mandolin, Holly Gettings on guitar and vocals, Joel Glassman on fiddle, and Ray Wassinger on drums. Lee plays keyboards on some tracks, notably "The Tinkerman's Daughter." The sound is crisp and clear; as usual, Waterbug has tinkered little with the "natural" state.

Rick Lee nurtures each of the songs on "Natick" as if it were one of his children. Each is carefully chosen and researched and arranged and sung; it is the care that Lee puts into each piece of this recording that makes it successful. He does have a talent for making those old stories come alive...

This review is copywrited by Three Rivers Folklife Society, 1995
. It may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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