On a recent Wednesday, three items arrived in the mail – an offer from DirecTV, a credit card bill and a brand spanking new CD titled “Phil Lee & The Horse He Road in On.”
The CD was by far the best of the three, although DirectTV did offer a $300 Visa debit card to come back as a “valued customer,” which I have not been for 20 years. I admire their unwillingness to give up on me, but I still passed on the offer. The less said about the credit card bill the better, but it appears that company is unwilling to give up on me as well.
Phil Lee, the N.C.-born singer-songwriter, once a part of the Neil Young entourage, former truck driver and expert knife thrower who migrated to the West Coast after plying his trade in Nashville, warned me the CD was coming.
“ Hey Scott! I’ll send you a FREE copy of the hot new record I just recorded with Crazy Horse and a few other disreputable characters if you promise to write a positive, upbeat review,” he said in a Facebook post. “Or how bout this, I send you one anyway.”
As an award-winning critic who judges each work on its own merit, I could never promise to write a positive, upbeat review in exchange for a free CD or even the cash I hoped he would include along with it.
Yes, you read that right – I am an award-winning critic. Back before the turn of the century, 1988 to be exact, I notched second place in the N.C. Press Association Journalism Contest (daily newspaper division under 15,000 circulation) in the category of criticism for reviews of the video releases of “Robocop” and two other movies, the titles of which I cannot recall.
I can’t be certain but I believe there were a total of three entries in the criticism category that year and I was edged out of first place by a woman who reviewed a sixth-grade adaption of “Our Town,” a senior center Christmas pageant and an episode of “Murder, She Wrote.”
Still, I can legitimately claim to be an award-winning critic.
So, what about “Phil Lee & The Horse He Rode in On” from an award-winning critic’s perspective?
Three thumbs up.
I really haven’t settled on my own rating system yet, but it’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to.
Phil Lee falls into that catch-all category of Americana along with other artists who aren’t played on commercial radio but should be. Showing up on this release – in addition to his old Crazy Horse pals – are Pete Anderson (former guitar player and producer for Dwight Yoakam), Bill Kirchen (of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen) and Gurf Morlix (music producer and the only guy named Gurf to write a song about Dan Blocker and the rest of the cast of “Bonanza.” It’s not on this album, by the way.)
Stand-out tracks that are on this album (tracks are what we award-winning critics call songs) include a newer take on “The Mighty King of Love” (first released on the 2000 album titled – not coincidentally – “Mighty King of Love”), “Bad for Me,” on which the Horse gets to stretch out and “Party Drawers,” with the line “I was kicking down some doors/I was in my party drawers/Where were you when all that was going on?”
It’s ragged but right, it’s got clever word play and it’s better than a $300 Visa card offer from DirecTV, a credit card bill or even that VHS copy of “Robocop” I may still have somewhere.
Buy “Phil Lee and The Horse He Rode in On” at philleeone.com or whatever retailer is smart enough to carry it. Buy all of Phil Lee’s albums. Go see Phil Lee when he shows up at a barn dance, hootenanny or listening room near you. Tell ’em an award-winning critic sent you with the promise of a positive, upbeat good time.
Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. and a humor columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.