Now Playing: Nate Lee’s ‘Wings Of A Jetliner’

nate kee
Image courtesy of Nate Lee

Nashville-based singer-songwriter and musician Nate Lee is prepping for the release of his new disc Wings Of A Jetliner. The album is set to drop on June 12th on Adverb Records. But first, for those not yet familiar with the artist in question, a bit o’ background.

Nate Lee

nate lee
Photo by Scott Simontacci

According to his official website, Texas-born Nate Lee is “an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award-winning instrumentalist and renowned [music] teacher.” He is a member of the award-winning bluegrass band, the Becky Buller Band. He started his career on the bluegrass music scene playing the fiddle with the banjo player and teacher, Alan Munde, in the Alan Munde Gazette, and then playing mandolin and fiddle with the Jim Hurst Trio.

His resume also includes performing with The Hard Road Trio with which Lee continues to record. He is also active with the International Bluegrass Music Association, aiding “bluegrass musicians and the bluegrass community to develop and grow as the chair of the Planning Committee for the IBMA’s Leadership Bluegrass program.”

Signature sound

Lee’s signature sound is a musical mix of multiple genres. It includes elements of acoustic, Americana, bluegrass, folk, “Grisman-Rice inspired dawg music” and (on this disc) even jazz.

Wings Of A Jetliner

On this 12-track disc, Lee leads the way on mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and vocals. He is backed by such other artists as Todd Phillips(bass), Wyatt Rice (guitar), Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), Ned Luberecki (banjo), Grammy winner Becky Buller (fiddle and harmony vocals), Daniel Hardin (bass and harmony vocals), producer Dan Boner (guitar, fiddle, and harmony vocals), Thomas Cassell (mandolin) and Daniel Salyer (harmony vocals).

Track by Track

The album opener is titled “Wonderbat.” It’s a short bluegrass instrumental intro which apparently is a clever tip of the hat to Lee’s favorite mandolin. He named it after Homer Simpson’s baseball bat in the episode “Homer at the Bat.”

Lee notes: “My Pava P5 mandolin, ‘Wonderbat,’ feels to me like Homer’s bat. I can do things with it that are better than when I play other mandolins. This song really shows the powerful side of the ‘Wonderbat,’ and it’s really fun to play.”

The second song is “Tobacco.” Here Lee shows what he can do with a song written by Sayler. The song is one of the best bits here and really does evoke a back porch feel. It tells the tuneful tale of the Black Patch Tobacco Wars and has a lot of energy and a good melody too.

The next number is “Quick Select.” It’s an instrumental that Lee first wrote in college. He employs “a playful bounce” that was born of his love for the video game Ratchet & Clank. Careful listeners might even hear a bit of jazz in this one.

The laid back, pretty “Somewhere Far Away” was written by Bradford Lee Folk and Nicholas Ian Woods. It’s bittersweet elements make it worthy of attention. Lee confesses:

“This has been one of my favorite songs in the world since I first heard Brad Folk sing it. The title of the album, Wings of a Jetliner, comes from a line in this song, ‘I like the lights on the wings of a jetliner as they blink out, and they cut through the cloud cover.’ I really love to watch planes, especially takeoff and final approach before landing. My back porch is a front-row seat for final approach at the BNA airport. I like to sit out there and watch, and sometimes I wish I was in the plane instead of watching from the ground.”

“Serenity” is the second single off this release. It was named after the spaceship in the sci-fi cult classic TV show “Firefly.” This twin-mandolin track is essentially Lee’s take on a traditional Irish tune with a melody influenced by the jazz-bluegrass fusion of mandolin great David Grisman. It’s set to drop on May 22nd.

“All Along” is one of the most interesting tracks on the album. It’s a cover of a song written by American singer-songwriter and guitarist Bryan Holland of The Offspring. Lee and his bandmate manage to remain true to the upbeat urgency of the 2000 punk piece and yet still own it.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, if one examines the song, certain things simply make sense. Lee explains:

“I must have listened to their album Conspiracy of One hundreds of times and always thought their songs would make great bluegrass songs. The drive they created between the bass/kick drum and the snare is just like a fast bluegrass groove. ‘All Along’ has always been one of my favorites; the lyrics are pretty lonesome and look like a bluegrass song on paper.”

The instrumental “Comealong Brown Dog” follows, This one is ready for a soundtrack. Here Lee and company perform a piece inspired by Lee’s dog, Cashew. Their goal was to musically recreate “the dreaminess of a late-summer afternoon.” They’ve succeeded admirably as you can almost picture a boy and his dog lazily loping along on a lovely sunny day.

“Miner’s Grave” is an atmospheric adaptation of an Ashleigh Caudill composition. Here Lee sings a sad song-story of a stuck in the sticks backwoods moonshiner.

“Rook Roller” is a rolling bluegrass instrumental that sounds like it was fun to play and record. It has a great jam session feel to it. Lee named it after his favorite chess move.

“The More I Pour” offers a unique take on a tune co-written by Tim Stafford and Mark Bumgarner. While it began as a honky-tonk song. Lee’s version has all the elements of a bluegrass number. He turns it into what one might call “a dancehall-ready charmer” that simply must work well with a live audience.

“Sweet Allis Chalmers” was written by Bill Caswell. It’s a sad, bittersweet track and one of Lee’s favorites. The personal significance of the song certainly shines through here.

The album endnote is a contemporary cover of Chris Sanders’ “Love Medicine.” This is another single off the album. This song about addiction is surprisingly influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and provides the release with an effective and clever closing cut.

Overall . . .

Overall, this album is an ample example of Lee’s range and what he can do even with songs written by other artists. Indeed, Lee works hard to put his tuneful trademark on every note he plays. The surprises are welcome and even the expected inclusions do not disappoint. So check out Nate Lee’s Wings Of A Jetliner, because it has its own unique sense of “Serenity.”