Gabe Lee, Sophie Gault
Fri July 26, 2024 8:00 pm (Doors: 7:00 pm )
The Southgate House Revival - Revival Room
Ages 18 and Up
Gabe Lee

Equal parts classic songwriter and modern-day storyteller, Gabe Lee has built his own bridge between country, folk and rock over the course of three acclaimed albums. His latest release, The Hometown Kid, finds him distilling those sounds into something sharp and singular, examining his roots as a Nashville native along the way. As warm and welcoming as Lee's Bible Belt birthplace, The Hometown Kid is a record about arrivals and departures, homes and homecomings, the places we leave and the lessons we carry with us.

Raised by Taiwanese immigrants, Lee grew up surrounded not only by Nashville's rich legacy of country music, but also the classical songs and gospel hymns that his piano-playing mother performed weekly in church. "A lot of my friends' parents were musicians, too," he remembers. "Music was always around me, and it became the driving force for everything I did."

Before he could launch his career as one of Nashville's hometown heroes, though, Lee first needed to leave town. Craving new horizons, he headed to Indiana, where he finished college with degrees in literature and journalism. Living in the Midwest gave him a renewed perspective on his Nashville roots, and when he returned home, he began writing songs that drew upon the narrative skills he'd sharpened as a student. His debut album, 2019's farmland, focused on his timeless melodies and deft delivery, while 2020's Honky Tonk Hell showcased a widescreen version of Lee's countrified sound. The reception was seismic. Rolling Stone praised Honky Tonk Hell as one of the "30 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2020," and Lee found himself sharing shows with Jason Isbell, Los Lobos, and other artists who, like him, embraced the full spectrum of roots music.

"I've always loved storytellers like John Prine and Paul Simon, as well as piano-driven singers like Billy Joel and Jackson Browne," says Lee, who nods to his heroes on The Hometown Kid. "You can hear those influences on this record. That blend is really important to me, because it lends itself to an original sound. Three records into my career, this is something I've been chasing and am happy to have reached: an honest mix of who I am as a writer."

A mix of autobiography and richly imaginative character studies, The Hometown Kid finds room for southern piano ballads, amplified rock, intimate folk songs, and gospel rave-ups. The stories themselves are equally diverse. Laced with childhood memories and hometown references, the anthemic "Rusty" unfolds like a love letter from a restless road warrior to the city he's left countless times before. Songs like "Buffalo Road" (named after a country lane that Lee visited often during his teenage years, "just to sneak away with my friends, look at the stars, and be somewhere else") and "Wide Open" continue exploring the push and pull of one's birthplace. "Kinda Man" paints a different picture, with lyrics that detail the hard-won wisdom and half-baked follies of a salt-of-the-earth dishwasher who worked alongside Lee during his days as a bartender. A track that's equal parts country song and southern fable, "Never Rained Again" is a song about taking a rougher road that eventually leads to greener pastures, while the empathetic "Lonely" takes its inspiration from fellow songwriter Justin Townes Earle, who passed away during the lockdown of 2020.

Lee recorded The Hometown Kid during his busiest year as a touring musician, finding time between shows to enter Farmland Studio — where he also created his two previous albums — with a band of country pickers and heartland rockers. Together, they laced his songs with electric guitar, upright piano, pedal steel, and fiddle. On "Longer I Run," they veered between Motown-worthy grooves and country-western swing. On "Angel Band," they mixed gospel grit with holy-roller reverence. Most of the songs were tracked live, with Lee — his voice in sharp shape, fine-tuned by a schedule of rapid-fire gigs — delivering the most compelling performances of his career. After several days of recording, he'd inevitably hit the road again, bidding another temporary goodbye to Nashville. No wonder The Hometown Kid is so nuanced with its depiction of the comings and goings of a wandering soul — it was created amidst a backdrop of goodbyes, arrivals, late-night drives, early-morning wake-up calls, and life-affirming shows.

"This album is about departing and returning to your hometown," he says. "More specifically, it's about the discovery, searching, and maturing that comes not only with being gone, but with returning to the place you come from."

There's more discovery to be done. As The Hometown Kid moves into its second half, the electrified drive of the album's earlier moments gives way to something more subtle but equally stunning. "The energy changes toward the end," admits Lee, "and that's because the story is unfinished. There's more to come. My earlier records were both concluded by a 'goodbye song' that helped tie everything together, but this one isn't like that. It leaves things more open-ended. When The Hometown Kid ends, we're still trying to figure out who we are. We're sure of our roots in Nashville, but where does that get us? Where do we go with that? We'll answer that question on the next record."

Like a collection of postcards sent from various stops along the road, The Hometown Kid is a snapshot of an artist in motion. It's the soundtrack to a journey that's forever unfolding, with Gabe Lee writing not only about where he's going, but where he's been, too.

Sophie Gault