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Guitar Festival review: Albert Lee


Grammy-award winning guitarist Albert Lee’s carefully curated Adelaide Guitar Festival performance showcased his flair for rockabilly and his passion for soul, writes Robert Horne.

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Albert Lee came to the Adelaide Guitar Festival with a list of accomplishments, collaborations and awards too long to list. He has previously collaborated with the Everly Brothers, Bill Wyman, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and Emmy Lou Harris and also played with childhood idol Jerry Lee Lewis on the London Sessions album. Throw in two Grammy awards and his list of achievements has steadily grown since he turned professional at the age of 16 in 1959.

Lee has performed solo and headline gigs off and on since the 1970s, with this latest Adelaide gig performed with his own band. “The last time I was here was in 1985, at the Grand Prix. I’ve moved up in the world” he quipped, looking around the cavern of the almost full Festival Theatre big room.

We expected some rockabilly trending towards country with some soul in the mix and that was pretty much what we got.

Albert opened with classic rockabilly that blended after a couple of songs to the country influences of a Gram Parsons number; he is scrupulous about acknowledging the origins of every song. Along with Parsons, there was material by Carl Perkins, Emmy Lou Harris, the Everly Brothers, Ray Charles and Richard Thompson. After three or four numbers, Albert’s voice is warmed up and the fingers are flying. Extended solos showcase top-shelf rock and roll playing, settling on riffing figures that are varied, tossed around and never dull.

These lengthy breaks are often smacked in the middle by jolting electric boogie piano from John Greyhouse. Bassman Will McGregor throbbed away deep and rumbling all night, while young drummer Ollie Sears totally caned it through the rockier numbers and kept it together throughout. Lee is surely the perfect example of a front-man who is happy to be a part of a genuine band experience and it was a pleasure to watch and listen to his sidemen throughout the show.

Lee switched to piano for his Jimmy Webb song, while the piano man switched to playing chords on strings setting, which created interesting textural change. The whole show was weighted to provide judicious variety within a theme, with no obvious hit number standards – this was not drive-time FM done live. Every song seemed to be a well-chosen album track or B-side, each one a new experience for me.

We should be thankful for Lee and his band’s intelligent and respectful approach to music.

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