The Lee Boys
Live on the East Coast
M.C. Records (release date: April 19, 2019)
By Bob Marovich
Live on the East Coast, the Lee Boys’ first album since 2012’s Testify and the group’s first for Mark Carpentieri’s M.C. Records, is a smoking hot sanctified-meets-steel workout.
Recorded in late 2018 at three live appearances—Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina—the Lee Boys’ album could just as easily have been titled Live in the Southeast. Name aside, the album combines traditional gospels and spirituals, newly-composed songs such as the title track from the group’s Testify album, and soul classics such as the Staples’ “I’ll Take You There” and a bouncy cover of Bobby Blue Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light.” The live environment delivers additional voltage to what would have already been electrifying performances.
The Lee Boys, like the Campbell Brothers, introduce a church-based music into the mainstream. Their roots are from the House of God, where their father, Elder R. E. Lee, was a pastor and their uncle, Lorenzo Harrison, a sacred steel player. This distinctive string-based sound, as sacred steel authority Robert Stone explains in the album notes, was popularized in the Church of the Living God.
Like the Hammond B3 organ, the electric guitar and petal steel evoke the sounds of souls surrendering to the spirit in wails of praise, keening, moaning, and shouting. “Come On Help Me Lift Him Up,” composed by Alvin Lee, is a rollicking example of the kind of steel guitar work one would hear in the Church of the Living God.
Examples of traditional fare include the opening congregational chestnut “In the Morning” (aka “In the Morning When I Rise”). The ensemble delivers a healthy dose of gospel blues on the classic Brother Joe May selection, “Don’t Let the Devil Ride.” They also perform “You’ve Got to Move,” a song associated with Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi Fred McDowell, with equal parts Pentecostal conviction and Sun Studios rockabilly.
Alvin Lee and guest artist Rick Lollar’s electric guitars sting as much as does Chris Johnson’s petal steel. They are delicious together.
The Lee Boys in live appearance bathe religious and inspirational messages in jam band rock ‘n’ roll. As such, they introduce fans of the music made by the other Alvin Lee, lead singer and guitarist of the rock-blues band Ten Years After, to the soundtrack of the Pentecostal church.
Live on the East Coast will appeal to sacred steel fans, naturally, but it also stands to gain a following among those who love a good jam band. The album more than blurs the line between the sacred and the secular—it erases it altogether.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Come On Help Me Lift Him Up,” “You’ve Got to Move”