Album Review – Gabe Lee’s “The Hometown Kid”
There are two kinds of people in America: those who leave, and those who stay. Either you were born to leave your hometown, and spend your adolescence and young adulthood plotting your escape, or see little need to ever go past the county line, unless its on vacation, or to land a better deal on a vehicle.
Nashville, Tennessee is full of leavers, very few stayers, and a not a few phonies, including many who moved to the town with the best of dreams and intentions, yet fell into the country music industry to ape whatever the hot musical commodity might be at the moment. Finding a native Nashvillian is like finding a good song on country radio. Good luck. There are a few though, though few would suspect this son of Taiwanese immigrants to be one of them.
Born and raised in Nashville, Gabe Lee has a greater birthright to making music in Nashville than most, and an authenticity others fail to muster. Most importantly though, Gabe Lee doesn’t just have a penchant for wanting to make music for a living, he has that poet’s heart, a keen sense of observation, an incredible voice for conveying emotion with an enviable level of expressionism and control, and the capability to put it all together in a way that has some professing him as a premier talent of our time. Those people might not be entirely wrong.
Gabe Lee’s new album The Hometown Kid is about football. Well okay, only a couple of the songs are about football specifically. “Kinda Man” evokes the American high school football mythology like the Uncle Rico character from Napoleon Dynamite in many respects. And even though “Over You” works excellently as a devastating heartbreak song, Gabe has revealed that a devastating playoff loss by the Tennessee Titans football team was its inspiration. No, this is not an album about football, but the subject is a good start for the kind of exploration into Americana (the cultural ethos, not the genre necessarily) that The Hometown Kid undertakes.
More Mellencamp and Springsteen than Hank and Lefty, and more Heartland rock than Harlan Howard, The Hometown Kid is a steeping out for Gabe Lee musically into a more full-bodied and universally inviting sound. You don’t have to convince your buddies to listen intently to the lyrics to understand what you’re raving about with this Gabe Lee guy anymore. Even if some of the lyrics fly right above their heads, the music will draw them in.
The Hometown Kid is not about Nashville specifically. There’s no bemoaning of the overdevelopment of Lower Broadway and the bane of the pedal taverns with their braying bachelorettes. This is more a character study into the stayers, or hometown kids all across the United States—their heart, their struggles, their honesty and simplicity. It’s also about how you never can truly see your hometown until you leave it and come back, as Gabe Lee so eloquently encapsulates in the song “Rusty.”
There is definitely some nostalgia and glory days syndrome at work here. But ain’t that America, and the way Gabe Lee delivers it, it’s not rendered as pandering or patronizing. It’s reverent, and reverberative, revering of the everyman, and how all of our sometimes piddly-feeling lives revolving around some speck on the map in middle American still hold a hell of a lot of meaning and beauty when singled out from the crowd and sung about, especially when the person doing the singing is someone with the conviction, soul, and insight of Gabe Lee.
Oh and don’t worry all you country fans out there. If you fell in love with Gabe Lee’s previous honky tonk material, make sure you keep listening to the final tracks of this record where things take a country music turn, from the forlorn and profound moments of “Hammer Down” and “Never Rained Again,” to the fun and entertaining “Angel Band” taking you out. Gabe Lee runs through a lifetime of emotions and musical influences in The Hometown Kid.
The songs that impact us the most are the ones that seem to eerily dictate our life experiences in the verses and chorus, set to the sounds that feel as familiar to us as the rhythms and landmarks of our hometown. We all have a hometown that remains static in our history no matter where life takes us, and how far flung we go, or how we feel about it. Gabe Lee’s happens to be Nashville, and we may have never heard about him, and he may have never pursued music if it wasn’t. But it’s how all of our hometowns are so elemental to who we are that Gabe Lee explores so eloquently in The Hometown Kid.
Purchase from Gabe Lee
October 28, 2022 @ 8:45 am
Great review, Trigger. One of your more insightful reflections lately. Definitely feeling the Springsteen and Mellencamp valences.
Hilarious to find out that “Over You” is about the Titans.
October 28, 2022 @ 8:55 am
This might be Lee’s best record. Ok, it is. And I consider myself a big fan. Fun to see him constantly evolving and growing.
October 28, 2022 @ 12:12 pm
This one is 10/10 for me, and I think the best country record of the year. Curious if you’ll review Nikki Lane and Julianna Riolino’s new albums.
October 28, 2022 @ 1:44 pm
There were 23 albums released just today that I had prescreened for potential review, and 11 that I slated as top priorities. We have gone well past the point of critical mass with album releases, and are spilling out to historic flood stage. All that I can do is review as many albums as possible, and create more tools for readers/listeners to be exposed to the titles that might appeal most to them, like doing weekly roundups of all the releases, along with my quarterly release radars. I hope to review Nikki Lane. I will check out Julianna Riolino. Thanks for the suggestion.
October 29, 2022 @ 6:30 am
So question for you Trigger: is this flood of output back up from the pandemic, or is it economically more viable to make this kind of music now? I had a music producer friend in the Americana realm bemoan to me five years ago that all the money was in hip-hop, which I’m sure is still the case, but it would be heartening to hear if you’re more likely now than five years ago to not starve making this kind of music.
October 29, 2022 @ 9:30 am
No, I don’t think this has anything to do with economic viability. The main vector of growth is in “Americana,” which is now the 2nd biggest genre in regard to volume in the United States behind rock, yet inherently is a very non-commercial genre. In fact, the volume of Americana is sort of cannibalizing itself because there is so much competition, but not a lot of economic activity. To be frank, a lot of this is being driven by semi-affluent artists who are able to support themselves or be supported through their families while making this music without economic concerns, or while working other jobs. This is really a existential crisis that Americana is facing, and that is not being addressed properly, or even really acknowledged. I’m hoping to write a deep dive into this soon … if I can catch up on all the album reviews that need to be written.
October 29, 2022 @ 6:30 pm
Making music without economic concerns . I like the concept.
October 28, 2022 @ 7:11 pm
Real country music. Great sound.
October 28, 2022 @ 7:38 pm
Very nice! Satisfying to my ears. I like the arrangements. Do you hear Prine in his phrasing?
October 29, 2022 @ 6:22 pm
Prine’s there all right, especially in the slower numbers.
October 28, 2022 @ 9:17 pm
I’ll be honest, I haven’t really been able to get into Gabe Lee as much as others have. Not that I thought he wasn’t any good, but his first two albums had him in the just another ok Americana/Singer Songwriter for me. With this album I think Gabe has stepped out of that just another guy role and really put out an album that says, hey I’m Gabe Lee.
I think this will be Gabe’s stepping out album, the one that separates him from the pack.
October 30, 2022 @ 6:05 am
I listened to his last one and it did not click with me either. From what I remember the production was a little modern sounding for me. I’m certainly interested in this, it seems to me that a heartland rock sound might be more fitting anyway.
October 30, 2022 @ 6:38 am
I agree. This album has a more organic sound to it, and his vocals are a little more refined. His previous albums kinda sounded similar to several others released in Americana. Not bad, but not unique, other than his distinctive vocals. This album just sounds like it is what Gabe Lee should sound like.
October 29, 2022 @ 8:33 am
Saw Gabe open for Jesse Daniels at 3rd and Lindsey, Nashville several months ago. What a solid performer. He played several songs on his own then was joined by a very tight band that was a perfect set up for Jesse. He was very friendly walking through the crowd and mingling with the people. Seems like a very authentic guy. If you get a chance to see him play don’t miss it.
Southern Man, Country Fan, and Stuck Somewhere Else
October 30, 2022 @ 12:27 pm
This review led directly to me not only checking out this album, but his previous two, over the last few days, and I am mightily impressed! I’m a big John Prine fan, and I can definitely hear the influence with Gabe, but he also has his own thing, musically, and I’m really enjoying it! The only thing I’m struggling with, thus far, is that, with the exception of the latest album, which is available on CD on his website, I simply cannot find his music on CD anywhere! I’m a old-school, physical media guy, but I got rid of my large record collection, well over a decade ago, due to reasons of space and the costs of repeatedly moving such a collection. I still buy lots of CDs (yes, I know that I’m a dinosaur in today’s music-listening world, but I moved from vinyl to CDs in the late ’80s and will not return to vinyl, especially when it’s so over-priced now!), and I don’t have Spotify or any other streaming service. All of the major sites where I buy CDs don’t even show anything when I do a search for Gabe Lee. As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the best new artists of the 21st century, but I just hope that I’ll be able to buy more of his music on CD eventually. Apart from that, I guess I’ll be listening to him on Youtube, mostly, and hoping to catch a concert, if he comes to my state or the general area.
Steve Earl is a Guitar God
November 24, 2022 @ 5:13 pm
Love the album. The music is great.
Only song I didn’t add to a playlist was Kinda Man. Reminded me of all the Kenny Chesney songs talking about his high school football days.