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Before he settled in to becoming one of the best songwriters in captivity Phil Lee spent a couple of decades playing drums, driving trucks, dumping motorcycles, hauling equipment, stealing hearts, eluding the authorities and raising Cain.

By the time most artists get to their third or fourth album they are down to the material that didn’t make the cut for the first two. It is no mean feat to make four albums that stand on their own each one as good as the last yet also better in some way. It’s a pretty mighty achievement. Somehow, Phil Lee, knife-thrower, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant and the pride of Durham, North Carolina, has pulled it off.

The Fall and Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love is all the more impressive when you realize there have also been side projects including touring, recording a DVD Phil Lee Live! At the Purple Onion with L.A. Johnson the head of Neil Young’s Shakey Pictures production company, touring, contributing songs to and making his silver screen debut in The One Who Loves You and an ultra-secret project with a collaborator-to-be-named-later, word has it he’s even working on reinventing the Tijuana Bible.

All this while keeping true to his unique and singular mission; to write songs that try to make sense out of this world, open some eyes, call out some fools and ring out some hard truths. Yet, admirable as such pursuits may be he’s simply being true to who he is. Phil Lee’s music will make you think and laugh and maybe shed a tear or two but it also provides hours of playtime fun because all of those things are part of the package. He couldn’t do it any other way.

Phil is a hipster madman Huck Finn meets Jack Kerouac. If he were a character in “On The Road” he’d be the guy in the back seat telling Sal and Dean which billboards the Highway Patrol is lurking behind, which diners have the prettiest waitresses, where to find the best pie a la mode in any given two mile stretch of Route 66 and where you can stop and get your hat blocked in an emergency 24 hours a day, no appointment necessary. Or, more likely, he’d be the guy they were barreling down the road to meet for hot coffee and enlightenment.

Ask his friend, crony and enabler Richard Bennett. Richard is one of the world’s finest guitar players and producers and he’s worn both hats for all of Phil’s records. He’s been a believer from the start. This is his take on the Mighty King of Love’s mysterious allure: “Phil and I often go for breakfast or lunch together where he’ll make a big show of picking up the check only to arrive at the register to discover he’s left his wallet home. Sometimes you’ll be lured to cash only joint and he’ll just have a credit card. The guy can put away more food than anyone I know and remain skinny as a rail. Believe me, there are plenty more reasons to dislike him. Still, Phil Lee’s the sanest person in my life… which doesn’t say much for either of us.” And nobody paid him to say that either.

Anyone looking for a heaping helping of sanity wrapped couldn’t do much better than good sized portion of Phil Lee music.

Rick Allen

Jan. 2013