Many of the accolade-laden folks are well aware of self-importance and let it show, but Albert Lee’s different. One of whom his peers speak in a reverent tone, the guitarist cuts a radiant presence off-stage – his fatigue never getting in the way of a smile even during the interview – and shapes oxymoron of a live performance. It’s intense as any rock ‘n’ roll show should be, while Albert is relaxed even when delivering the most frenetic solo: that’s how it was during his Toronto stint.
Lee’s latest album might be all-acoustic “Highwayman,” yet the veteran didn’t treat the audience to an unplugged serenity this time; instead, he opted for an electrifying swirl of joy. Albert played that record’s title track, though – a song by Jimmy Webb who’d graced the same venue a couple of days earlier – sat at the keyboard and giving the guitar a break. As a result, the Englishman offered a genuine journey through his life with a set which included such milestones of Lee’s lore as “Pink Bedroom,” a slice of catchy pop from Albert’s eponymous LP, “Luxury Liner” that he helped Emmylou Harris shape, “No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile” that he did with THE EVERLY BROTHERS, and, of course, his signature piece from HEADS HANDS AND FEET, “Country Boy” – delievered lower than usual for the sake of the artist’s pipes’ comfort, if with the usual vim.
There even were some in-jokes, like a “Layla” quote on the coda of “Leave My Woman Alone,” because work with his fan Eric Clapton is another page in Albert’s long list of collaborations, but then the riff of that Slowhand classic came from “As The Years Go Passing By,” and Lee’s licks had a lot of bluesiness throughout the concert, which could come as a surprise for those familiar only with his high country profile. Still, the guitarist shone the brightest – as a soulful vocalist, too – on the Southern rock numbers of the “Angelina” or “Till I Gain Control Again” kind, the latter seeing keyboard player J.T. Thomas on accordion, and highlighting the crunchy input from Albert’s group’s rhythm section: bassist Will McGregor and drummer Jason Smith.
The quartet were infectious in the fast lanes of the show which prompted the punters for encore-calling and finished with a rousing take on Johnny Burnette’s “Tear It Up,” a staple of Lee’s gig with THE HOGANS HEROES, yet pognancy prevailed when he finished the main set with a spiritual rendition of Glen Campbell’s “Better Place.” And there was one more contradiction in it – with Albert Lee, the better place is always the next song, not the next world, as this artist lives in the moment, and that’s where his greatness lies.
Photos: © Eugene Bychkov exclusively for DME