Whatever it is about guns, and songs about guns, that has always resonated in the soul of man – it was a staple on AM radio in songs from Johnny Horton, Marty Robbins, and others when I was growing up in Middle America – it has clearly put its stamp on Australian singer-songwriter Steve Lee.
Lee is the patriarch of the six-member family band The Lees, a New South Wales contingent of alternative country home schoolers under the aegis of their parents Steve and Tracey. They have been a touring commodity down under for several years and in 2010 had their biggest radio success to date with “It Ain’t Me Babe”. Then they took a break last year – in fact, went off an got day jobs – to let father Steve record his paean to weaponry, leveraging his clever track opener “I Like Guns”, which he penned one night at his kitchen table.
That gave Lee, who likes guns, an idea. He contacted his friend Bill Chambers, who is one of Australia and the world’s top alt-country musicians (a killer guitarist and pedal steel guy). According the Lee’s Website, Chambers was good to go, though voiced some reservations that anyone other than Steve Lee could make this idea work. The idea was to select a collection of songs in which guns are a key part of the storyline, and record a concept album.
In fact, Lee has a voice and personality that is a perfect fit for this specialized genre of music. He is extraordinarily likeable and even the most ardent gun hater will likely find him or herself fixated by Lee’s light touch on a series of cover tunes that explore the gun issue from nearly every angle. He gives voice to the empowerment one may feel at the touch of a tool of destruction that neutralizes the disparities, inequalities, and injustices in all human affairs. That is where you would expect I Like Guns to go, but that is only a part of the story unfurled here by the charismatic Aussie Lee.
Lee explores the dynamics in relationships where wives don’t understand their husbands’ gun obsessions. He seems to reference the air soft craze – plastic BB-firing weaponry that allows “players” to shoot each other without inflicting fatal wounds – and effectively narrates more lethal encounters, where his gun is all that protects him from meeting his maker.
Lee’s assets include his voice, which is utterly free of pretension, clear as a bell, well in tune and rich in character. He embodies the songs of this album without sounding anything other than honest and authentic. In fact, the great strength of this album, other than some extraordinary musical craftsmanship, is that the listener forgets that it is an LP called I Like Guns. Every lyric is referencing guns and the role they play in every situation described, but there is an alchemy at work here that elevates the experience of listening to the album above its weighted concept.
Steve Lee has something of a treasure in I Like Guns. His timing could hardly be better as the world seems to be rushing off to gun shows and sporting goods shops to arm themselves for some coming, undefined war with the future. Lee, with his Aussie accent and easy way, makes it all seem sort of natural good fun.
“I’m not going to shoot anyone,” he writes, “and nobody is going to shoot me – because I’ve got a gun.” - RAR