Multi-instrumentalist Eric Lee is set to release his new album Heartache Town with a release party at the Brass Cat in Easthampton, MA on Thursday, June 28th.
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Western Mass-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Eric Lee will release his latest full length album, Heartache Town, on June 28th at The Brass Cat in Easthampton, MA. The night will start with a Western Grass set featuring Lee, Jim Henry, Paul Kochanski, among other notable local musicians.
A masterful and engaging multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Eric Lee combines poetic lyrics with a singular melodic sense that are strongly rooted in the folk and bluegrass traditions. For being still in his twenties, he has achieved experience beyond his years, drawing from years accompanying such notable artists that include Eric Andersen, Peter Rowan, and The Kennedy’s. As a member of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival house band, Eric has sat in with numerous acts and artists from around the country. Locally, he has performed live and on recordings of Valley artists including the Boxcar Lillies, Mikey Sweet, and The Nields, to name a few.
Having released his self-titled EP in 2015, Eric recently finished production of his first full-length album, Heartache Town. Exceptional performances complement Lee’s compelling and honest vocal delivery, as the graceful harmonies of renowned singer Tracy Grammer and the pristine mandolin of 5-time IBMA Mandolinist of the Year Jesse Brock (The Gibson Brothers) shine over the powerful and dynamic rhythm section comprised of seasoned talents Jim Henry (electric guitar), Paul Kochanski (bass), and J.J. O’Connell (drums). Throughout the album can be heard Lee’s exquisite and tasteful skill as both an instrumentalist and arranger, playing guitars, mandolin, electric violin, fiddle, and baritone violin. Heartache Town was recorded at Shoestring Studios in Belchertown, MA, engineered by Max Cohen, and produced by Eric Lee and Rusty Annis. Additional recording was done at Fox Run Studios (Sudbury, MA) and Sound Biscuit Studios (Sevierville, KY). It was mastered by Mark Alan Miller at Sonelab Studios in Easthampton, MA.
Read Kelly D’s review of Eric Lee, Tracy Grammer, and others at the Winter String Jamboree at Hawks and Reed PAC this past February HERE.
The new album features twelve original compositions that capture the scope of personal joy and hardship through life and love. The cascading lyrics of the album’s opening track, “The Garden,” evokes mythological imagery reminiscent of Dave Carter. Other tracks, like “I Wish I Was a Plumber” and “Another Bloody Mary Morning,” possess the clear country and bluegrass influences of Dwight Yoakam and Bill Monroe. The album also features anthems of social consciousness, such as the cautionary “Fall of Man”, with it’s lush string arrangements and pioneering electric violin leads (described by Eric Andersen as a “dystopian ecological masterwork”) and the Guthrie-esque “Help My Neighbor On”.
On stage, Eric Lee carries himself with assurance and ease, and tells stories both unique and relatable, and often comical. Whether solo or accompanied, Lee’s performances set a bar of unique musicality that draws deeply from decades of study and experience, and will continue to do so for years to come.
LMNR had a chance to catch-up with Lee before this unique release, and here’s what he had to say:
LMNR: What’s new with Eric Lee? What’s the latest?
EL: I’ve been so caught up wrapping up the final points of production for the new record; now that it’s finished, I can begin planning my move to Nashville. I’m really ready to get back to developing new songs and playing more live shows… I can hear the call of the road!
LMNR: You call the Pioneer Valley in Western Mass home. How has the Northampton, MA scene influenced the your sound?
EL: The Valley is such a musically rich area, and I’ve been fortunate to have had so many different opportunities to develop my own sound. I started playing with a rock band called The Thungs when the Northampton music scene had much more of a post-nineties punk and rock edge. We were a five-piece band, but our guitarist played an acoustic in open tuning, so I took the soloing role more typically covered by an electric guitar, and I ran my fiddle through effects pedals and an amp. In our recordings, I would get very experimental with the instrument, between electric uses and over-dubbing multiple tracks of my own string arrangements. I also met The Kennedys, who were living in Northampton at the time, and joined their band The Strangelings at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Since then, I’ve been a member of that festival’s house band, and the incredible artists I’ve played with and heard there have certainly influenced my own songwriting. I moved to NYC for a few years, and when I came back, the landscape had shifted to a more funk and jam-band sound, and there was also a presence of bluegrass-influenced Americana that I hadn’t seen here before. I joined the psychedelic rock band Outer Stylie and started a bluegrass jam at the Black Sheep in Amherst, which after a few years continued on at The O’s in Sunderland when my schedule became too full to make the weekly commitments. The individual artists from this area that I’ve played with over the years have absolutely shaped my own approach to music Jim Henry would be at the top of that list.
LMNR: This is your first full-length album. Congrats! How has your sound evolved from your 2015 EP?
EL: The years between these recordings for me have had some pretty incredible changes, both personally and with the nation in general. I went on a edge-of-your-seat tour with Mikey Sweet that definitely thickened my skin. I’ve had my heart crushed a little more, and I think I know how to rearrange the pieces in more unique ways through my songs. I play more shows now as a front man playing my own songs, which has made me stronger as a singer and guitarist, and I’ve become a little more polished of a player from the time I’ve spent in the bluegrass circles. With the new record, I’ve had a lot more time to be able to bring out certain stylistic elements in each song (like pedal steel and baritone guitar on “I Wish I Was a Plumber” and electric fiddle and sitar on “Fall of Man”). With my EP, I only had one day to track everything live, and mix and master it, compared to the past year I’ve spent making the new record, so there’s obviously a pretty big difference in the overall sound!
Read Eric Lee’s artist review of his performance at the Iron Horse in early 2017 HERE.
LMNR: What did the creative process for Heartache Town look like? How did recording go?
EL: There was a tremendous amount of planning that went into this record. Location, budget constraints, and shuffling schedules all had to be factored in. I was really lucky to have an amazing recording engineer in Max Cohen and mixing engineer/producer in Rusty Annis; we have a very natural rapport and similar intuitions. We tracked and mixed the majority of the record at Shoestring Studios in Belchertown, MA. I tracked the string arrangements at Fox Run Studios, owned by my friend Neale Eckstein, in Sudbury MA, and we used three additional studios to record Tracy Grammer and Jesse Brock’s parts. The mixing was a surprisingly fun experience, like painting; the way different reverbs on a track can create completely different atmospheres. I can get into abstract concepts fairly easily with this, but Rusty has an incredible degree of competence with the inexhaustible amount of fine equipment at his avail, and that shows on this record. We would spend hours nerding out about the minutia: delay rates, reverb EQs, panning variations… stuff that probably no one will notice, haha, but that’s what we wanted, to not have your attention taken away from the songs.
LMNR: You’ve featured some stellar players on Heartache Town, including Tracy Grammer and Jesse Brock. How did that shape the sound of the album?
EL: I’m beyond ecstatic to have Tracy and Jesse on this album; their sensitivity and intuitions perfectly suited the underlying emotions of each song. Tracy Grammer is one of the greatest singers I’ve known, and her moments on this record are like a cool breeze on a summer day. I refer to her as my “Folk Fairy Godmother”, and it’s thrilling to hear how our voices compliment each other. Jesse Brock is a musical force, channeling the power of mandolin greats from generations past, and his effortless and tasteful command of the instrument has set the bar for those that will come after. His work on this record shines with exceptional brilliance.
LMNR: What about this album makes you the most proud?
EL: I don’t really have an answer for that… everything? I’ve put so much time and loving effort into each part of this record, that I couldn’t pick any one aspect to favor over another. I’m proud of it like a parent would be seeing their child go off to college. I want it to have a good life out in the world.
LMNR: If you had one song from the album to choose from, which song from Heartache Town would you choose to introduce new listeners to Eric Lee and why?
EL: Hmm… that’s a tough one! I would probably have to say“Fall of Man”. It’s got such a vast scope, and combines so many of my influences: the early psychedelia of the full string arrangements and wah-wah-pedal-drenched electric violin solo, the biblical imagery from my upbringing… you can even hear a bit of the Alice In Chains snarl from the electric guitars, but it’s message is just as effective when I play solo.
Eric Lee’s Heartache Town release party is on Thursday, June 28th at the Brass Cat in Easthampton, MA, beginning at 7 PM with opener Western Grass. You can RSVP to the FB event HERE.
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