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It’s both an easy and a difficult task at times to fit an album into a specific genre. It’s safe to say that Lee Jeffrey’s latest album “Joy of Misgiving in Skunk Hollow” is an indie-folk album of sorts. It’s important to bring up that this isn’t the bluegrass/roots kind of indie-folk. To make some loose comparisons, think The Shins or Modest Mouse except pretty darn chill even compared to those bands.
Much like the title of this album, there are a few interesting and unique things going on here. While the overall vibe of the album is undeniably laid back, there’s always something going on to add to the tracks in some way. It takes a couple of listens but the album is certainly well thought out.
From the first track, I’m thinking the album might be a little too simple and restrained. Sure there are good songs with soft vocals and strumming, but 14 songs of that might start to get a little rough. First off, Jeffrey’s guitar work starts to get a little more technical right before the one minute mark of the song with clever slides and pulls on the strings that end up making the song have more depth over sounding like he’s just showing off or something. I find the nuances and small technical flares in his playing to be a great touch when they come up, which is actually fairly often. The soft background vocals give way to a harmonica part backed with some light percussion that indicates there’s going to be more than just some strumming and soft spoken lyrics.
The pace picks up a little more with the next song, “Rifle.” It brings in a steady rock style beat on the drums and the guitar work is solid and has a certain complexity. In the final parts the song breaks a bit with the accompanying vocal part of Sara DeYoung who is a is also an emerging indie-folk musician who I’ve seen at a few open mics. There is underlying wavering flute played by Jeffrey and a subtle and smooth guitar lead shines for just a moment. It should be noted that besides Sam Williams percussions and DeYoung’s vocals on a couple of tracks, Jeffrey holds down acoustic/electric/bass guitars, the vocals, harmonica, flute and theremin on the album.
Aside from the instruments some of the titles of the songs and lyrics are little different. One song that caught my eye just from the title was, “Nudist Slams the Door and Leaves.” The songs are often either stories or something making personal references from what I can determine. “Clothed in freedom alone, wandering on a road only occupied by settled dust, no more eyes drinking in your tall glass, judging sins of your past, your face stings and it’s red ‘cause they slapped you said, ‘Join and touch against me.’ You got hurt and you bled from what they did when you said, ‘Feel the wind on you back, join and touch against me and yourself be at rest.’” The lyrics tend to be abstract and poetic, but the listener gets a little of what’s being laid out.
Songs like “Last Has No Money” have lyrics that tell a more definite story, “An older man digs through the trash for things unworthy to touch with bare hands. The welfare that he is afforded, what has been thrown away.” The song starts slowly with just a guitar, light cymbal taps and an eerie wind like sound behind it. It breaks in a “heavy” strumming of distorted chords and then goes to the lyrics with what I’ll describe as a modified salsa beat. From the way some of the songs start up, they can take a few turns by the time they’re done.
There’s one instrumental on the album and it’s titled, “Screams & Choir.” If you were to pick a song to add randomly on to your Halloween playlist, this 47 second song is kind of self explanatory of what to expect.
One of the last songs, “Black Eye Hymn,” is one of my favorite tracks as in it sets the mood of the album and also has some nice guitar work that fills up the middle of it. It ends with just one verse/refrain from DeYoung, “They said it was most heavy work but all sang that heavy hymn. That book’s closed and I’ve got pages. I’ll feel that balmy water again and stay in.” I’m not exactly sure what means, but the way it’s sung sure makes it sound meaningful. There’s often a little mystery going on with the lyrics overall.
Upon looking at some of the credits, I noticed that local musician, Brian Ring, did the mastering on this album and that makes sense in a way with the overall sound. I’ve listened to Ring’s Lion or Gazelle before and it has a similar feel in being kind of a solemn and laid back project. Overall, this was definitely Lee Jeffrey’s project in pretty much everything else besides the few people who are mentioned. One thing about the packaging that I found, once again interesting, is that the liner notes with the lyrics fold out and on the other side there’s a mini-poster of Lee in a jean jacket, thick rimmed glass and he’s seated holding a guitar to the side with his legs crossed. It reminds me a little of what might be in someone’s graduation photos. I also wondered how many people will hang up the mini-poster.
Pick up the album yourself and enjoy this original and beautiful album, hanging up the mini-poster is optional of course if you can get a hold of a physical copy. The album can be listened to and purchased by finding Lee Jeffrey on Bandcamp. I’m uncertain when he will be playing next but said there will shows with band members coming up soon.