Album Review: Gabe Lee - “The Hometown Kid”

Independent country singer/songwriter delivers latest in a string of strong album releases.

For his third album, The Hometown Kid, Nashville’s own Gabe Lee has gathered twelve new songs that tell stories about the things he’s done and seen over the years as one of the rare, actual native citizens of Music City. “Wide Open” opens the record and it finds the singer (whose voice sounds like a youthful, more-on the beat Willie Nelson), singing about three parts of his life to date: childhood, adolescence, and growing into adulthood. It’s an interesting song and an interesting opener. “Over You” is a achingly honest breakup song and while framed as a relationship, the song — like many a great song — can be interpreted differently for the listener and those in need of getting over someone, something or somewhere.

As an artist who isn’t mainstream enough to chase radio, it’s ironic then the jangly radio-ready “Lucky Stars” feels ready to break out on Texas Music or AAA Radio stations. This one, which is about the wake of the break-up, how broken hearts can break people down and how Gabe’s narrator is thankful that he was able to survive that breakup. The piano-based musical bed lends a Gospel feel to “Buffalo Road.”

“Rusty” was the first song released from The Hometown Kid and it certainly set the album up well. The lyrical imagery rust meaning a used-up, aged heart and soul whose looking for a little redemption and love. It’s a song about realizing that wisdom can only come with age and lived in experiences and realizing that the place you hated back in the day is a calming, comforting place now. As someone whose lived a vagabond life, I can relate to the lyrics of “Rusty” as I know the place I grew up in — while not where I lay my head — is a place I’ve come to appreciate and COULD live in again later on in life. “Kinda Man” feels personal and for anyone who comes to understand their place in the world all at the same time.

I’ve always loved a great acoustic guitar/vocal song that shows up at Nashville writer round nights and “Lonely” is a song which feels like that kind of song, even as it builds up. It also feels like a great, lost John Prine track. The harmonies and vocals are simple and that is the beauty of country music, to me.
“Longer I Run — Hammer Down” is another place where Gabe Lee showcases more of that Willie-like vocal, not to mention the laid-back feel of “Longer I Run” before it turns to the solemn gospel feel of “Hammer Down,” a twoferone special of a song. “Never Rained Again” is another acoustic-based story song and a damn good one too as it feels like a song of hope.

One of my favorite tracks on The Hometown Kid is the mandolin-laced, classic sounding “Long Gone.” This song, which feels like an unearthed track from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken sessions as does the closing country gospel number “Angel Band.” These are great, timeless sounding songs and this album, just like Gabe Lee’s previous two albums, Farmland and Honky Tonk Hell, The Hometown Kid, finds Gabe Lee in rarified air where his music fits within many periods of county music’s past and present. Gabe Lee makes country music for people who actually like country music.