In the proverbial school of rock and roll, Albert Lee is an esteemed professor. The 80-year-old British guitarist has made his mark as a bandleader, sideman, and collaborator with many artists, from Eric Clapton to Emmylou Harris. Lee’s technical prowess is long established, and his CV is the stuff of legends. Last Wednesday night, Lee brought those skills, a killer band, and a deep, savvy reading of the rock and roll songbook to the Dakota for an instructive and enjoyable show.
When judged purely on musical and lyrical merits, Fats Domino’s “I’m Ready” is a choice opener for any rock and roll show. Up-tempo and lively, it invariably gets people moving, and the lyrics serve as a mission statement for any true-blue rock endeavor: “Well, I’m ready, I’m willing, and I’m able to rock and roll all night.” In the context of Lee’s show, the fit made even more thematic sense. While the show heavily featured Lee and his lauded guitar skills, the emphasis was equally on highlighting great rock (and country) songwriters and songs.
Among the other selections Lee chose to highlight were picks by Ray Charles, Rodney Crowell (“Song for the Life” and “Till I Gain Control Again” were particularly moving), and Gram Parsons. Each song showcased Lee’s signature rhythm and lead guitar skills alongside the myriad influences shaping Lee’s musical journey up to this point.
Between songs, he shared stories about encounters with his heroes and peers, including Clapton, The Everly Brothers, and Jimmy Webb (playing Webb’s classic “Highwayman” on piano).
The show had a loose “Storytellers” feel, with the stories adding valuable context to the numbers he chose to play. Making things even cooler was that even the songs by well-known artists and writers generally weren’t smash hits, but rather quality album cuts that impacted Lee along the way.
With Lee and his band’s execution at a commensurately high level, the results were outstanding. It was the kind of show that could only be pulled off by a seasoned veteran with the experience to back their impressive skills. On this night, Lee proved more than capable of playing that role.