PERFORMING SONGWRITER MAGAZINE
by Neil Fagan
L.A.-based singer /songwriter Matthew Lee was a finalist for the
title of Songwriter of the Year at Wildflower '99, a finalist for
Acoustic Artist of the Year by the National Academy of Songwriters,
and has been featured on ASCAP's "Quiet On The Set," The
Best Of Unsigned L.A., and Eat'm '99. The dude's got skills.
Lee is a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and arrived in the City
of Angels in the early '90s. His gruff vocal style is a cross between
Mark Knopfler, Tom Waits, and Chris Rea and he also shares their
knack for a subtle yet undeniable hook. If the tunes don't snag
you, his dense and picturesque lyrics will. "Crazy In The Rain"
and "Another Bucket Of Rain" kick off the CD with a one-two
punch and both are, pardon the pun, knockouts. "Some Fine Day"
walks a fine line between longing and patience for a woman "so
strong she could be in Guinness."
Lee is that gifted artist who can take in a lot of living
his own and others' and then spit it back out in songs that
are insightful, inspiring, and just plain beautiful. From the late-night,
smoky bar reverie of "On These Stones" to romantic rebirth
of "Coming Alive Again," Lee makes every song shine like
a precious jewel.
It says something about Matthew Lee's music that, when my recently
paid-off truck was totaled in an electrical fire, one of the first
things I thought about was Lee's demo tape, which had been in
heavy rotation on the truck stereo.
When the smoke cleared from the wreckage, I was almost as upset
about his tape melting into black goo under what used to be my
dashboard, as I was about the fact that insurance covered none
of the damage -- and that it would be many moons before I could
replace my beloved Ranger. It also says something about my outsized
reverence for music, but that's another story.
Fast forwarding to the present, the truck's in a scrap heap and
the tape's been replaced with a new CD, "Footsteps."
Lee is performing at festivals and local venues in support of
that album. He was recently selected as a Top-10 National Performing
Songwriter at the Wildflower '99 festival in Texas, and also was
showcased at the considerably glitzier Emerging Artists and Talent
in Music, and North By Northeast music-industry schmoozefests
in Las Vegas and Toronto.
Comparisons to Tom Waits run fast and thick, but despite his raspy
sound and similarly offbeat sensibilities, the unassuming Lee
is influenced more by his Midwestern roots. He moved here from
Michigan in 1993 after securing a publishing deal with an established
company that folded a week after his arrival. Then a "series
of working relationships with different producers," enchanted
by his songs and gravely voice (a riveting flashpoint for listeners),
culminated in a prestigious production deal that consequently
evolved into a bizarre trial by fire.
"I kind of got taken to school on the music industry in that,"
Lee says. The politicized end of the business left him feeling
"pretty empty" and distanced from his own creativity,
until he realized he was writing and performing on autopilot.
"It wasn't coming from a real honest place," he said.
Lee realized he needed to reconnect with his original reasons
for making music, and that he also had to make things happen for
himself, musically and career-wise. In an exquisite stroke of
cosmic timing, a colleague affered him free studio time. That
freedom allowed Lee to synthesize his experiences with a new creative
perspective. He learned to engineer and produced "Footsteps,"
a buoyant, hopeful album brimming with elegant melodies, earthy
rhythms, cool vibes, wise humor, adventurous vocals and provocative
"Another Saturday -- home alone/Trying to buy me a pizza
over the telephone/Louie Armstrong on the stereo rat-tat-tattin'/Stumble
over to the kitchen table and mix me another Manhattan."
Unlike his 1997 album, "The Matthew Lee Band," which
was passionate yet oddly tense (and over-compressed), "Footsteps"
developed organically, with no preconceived notions, and comes
much closer to the sly spontaneity of his live performances. Free
from the pressure of outside expectations, Lee relaxes into his
own grooves with outstanding results.
"I just wanted to like it," he says. "And I wanted
it to be me."
by Richard Middleton
LA singer-songwriter and pianist Matthew Lee's music is earthy,
wistful, and always passionate. What grabs us immediately is his
gritty, breathy voice, and the hushed, rhythmic exuberance of
his delivery. There are hints of Waits and Prine, without the
former's idiosyncratic theatricality or the latter's twang, but
with all their weary dignity and aliveness. The band arrangements
are multi-layered yet open, leaving plenty of room for Lee to
explore the shadings of his vivid, thoughtful lyrics. Among his
characters are devoted lovers and restless wanderers, those just
about to give up hope and those whose hope is just reawakening.