The Real Michael Lee

A somewhat folksy singer/songwriter/what-have-you who likes to write catchy little dittys for the world to enjoy.

New EP Out on 10/28

The Real Michael Lee - Growing Up

I’m excited to announce my NEW EP titled “Growing Up” will release on 10/28!!!

It’s a collection of five raw and intimate acoustic recordings. Just me, a guitar, and the listener.

The cover was illustrated by the ultra talented @losgryfog

The EP will include a song only available here, a cover of a song by the amazing blues singer Bessie Smith, and two stripped down tracks from my upcoming album, which will be out likely next year.

I’ll share samples once the mastering is complete (just gotta make some final tweaks).

More info to come!

TRML’s Sound Selections #18

Alice Cooper - School's Out

Alice Cooper – School’s Out

School’s Out is an album that not only perfectly capture’s Alice Cooper’s dark theatricality, it also has some of the best packaging design I’ve seen for an album. (The sleeve has fold-out legs and opens like a desk to reveal the album. Unfortunately my copy does not include the dangerously flammable panty disc sleeve.) Besides the hit single that catapulted Alice into such stardom as to be noticed and featured by the Muppets (Ok, not true, but he DID perform the song on The Muppet Show in a performance that unfortunately has not aged well considering the U.S.’s problem with school violence.), School’s Out showcases a dark glam rock sound mixed with broadway theatricality. West Side Story is even referenced at one point (in the aptly named Gutter Cat vs. The Jets). This might sound like an odd thing to include on a rock album, but it works surprisingly well due to Alice’s dark charm. It also works with the overall narrative of someone leaving high school and figuring out “what now?”, which is something we’ve all felt. 

When I first heard the album School’s Out, I was surprised it only had the one “hit” single on it. It might be due to just how legendary that song is, but I would seem the radio didn’t latch on to anything else from the record. On one hand I can see why, as the rest of the album largely works as a whole to further the overall narrative. But on the other hand I think it’s a shame that more people might not have heard Public Animal #9 or Blue Turk because they only ever listened to the greatest hits. School’s Out lays out a relatable narrative set to a dark and seedy glam rock soundtrack. It’s one of many classic Alice Cooper albums and well worth a listen from start to finish.    

TRML’s Sound Selections #17

John Cale - Sabotage/Live

John Cale – Sabotoge/Live

Sabotage/Live is easily John Cale at his most forceful and aggressive. Recorded in 1979, the punk scene was well-established and John Cale, who arguably helped birth the genre a decade earlier, dove back in the deep end. This album is all-new material that’s leaves behind the somber piano and melts face with searing guitars and catchy riffs. John doesn’t fall into the trappings of early punk with simple power chords and repetition. No, you get his signature thoughtfulness combined with solid musicianship and songs that individually stand out on their own while at the same time serve the album as a whole, all with an energy that only CBGBs (where it was recorded) could instill in John and his band… Ok, MAYBE cocaine too. But regardless of HOW it was produced, the energy is there and crackles throughout both sides of this album.

John Cale is an interesting musician for me because of the vastly differing eras of his music. He goes from high-concept experimental drone music to punk to introspective piano ballads to avant-garde synth pop (not necessarily in that order). He really does offer something for everyone. I enjoy his ability to seamlessly cross genres while still sounding like himself. Sabotoge/live shows this with its side 2 offerings. You get a small respite from the heaviness with the beautiful “Only Time will Tell,” which is like John’s softer side reminding us it’s still here and to remain calm… Right before “Sabotage” comes in and hits you upside the head with its ice pick guitar and gerrot wire bass. It then pivots again and ends on a very gospel-sounding number…. Which includes a coda of a piercing tone not unlike the severe weather alert one gets on their phone. It’s pure John Cale through and through and a good jumping-on point for those who only know John from his VU days.

TRML’s Sound Selections #16

Bret McKenzie - Songs Without Jokes

Bret McKenzie – Songs Without Jokes

This might be the fastest release-to-write-up on Sound Selections… Bret McKenzie, of Flight of the Conchords and the (Oscar winning) music from the Muppet movie reboot, has released his first solo album. As the name implies, it’s not the typical silly stuff he’s been known for up until now. Songs Without Jokes is Bret branching out from humor and really showing off his songwriting chops. Right out of the gate Bret mulls over the seemingly decaying state of the world today and asks why we don’t fix it if we KNOW the problem. (An excellent question.) Throughout the rest of the album he continues to open his mind and his heart in 11 tracks that range in style from piano ballads to 80s pop, proving that he truly understands and appreciates the styles he was parodying back in the day. The songs flow together beautifully and every number is Bret Mckenzie through and through.

As my early work might bely, comedy rock, especially the Conchords, was a huge influence on me. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve re-watched that series or listened to those albums. I’ve always loved Bret and Jemaine’s writing style and clever word play. When I saw Bret was releasing his first solo album, and one of serious songs at that, I immediately preordered it. I feel a definite kinship here, as I, too, am working to shed my old humor music skin and wish to be seen as a more serious songwriter. It’s not easy to change like that, as you’re sure to ruffle some feathers. But with Songs Without Jokes, Bret truly proves that he is a versatile songwriter. I have no doubt that the folks who loved the Conchords back in the day will love this album… And the folks that DIDN’T like them will quite possibly find something to love in these jokeless numbers.

TRML’s Sound Selection #15

The B-52s - The B-52s

The B-52s – The B-52s

The B-52s’ first album is a new wave party from start to finish. Opening with “Planet Claire,” a song that perfectly captures the feeling of campy sci-fi, you’re taken on a witty exploration of kitsch as you make your way through the next 35 minutes. This album FEELS like you’re working your way around a party at high speed. Side A culminates in the incomparable “Rock Lobster,” where the party has reached its peak and EVERYONE is buzzing. Side B starts off with the saucy “Lava” and ends with a cover of the Petula Clark hit “Downtown” which feels like the end of the night (or morning?) when everyone is coming down and you’re all sitting around, singing old favorites. 

I’ve been a fan of the B-52s for a while, especially their first couple of albums. Although for me, the B-52s nailed it right out of the gate and their first album is the one that really shows them at their weirdest. Sure, the big hits would come later, but for me, it’s hard to top the manic surf rock that is “Rock Lobster” or the thrift store Halloween chic that is “Planet Claire.” As of writing this they just recently concluded their farewell tour, which is sad because I couldn’t make it to see them. But at least I’ll always have this album.  

It’s Been a While…

It’s been a while but I hosted and played the Hambones Open Mic this week. It’s the first time I’ve played live in almost two months. Check out this clip of Panic alterations below:

TRML’s Sound Selections #14

Laurie Anderson - Big Science

Laurie Anderson – Big Science

Big Science was Laurie Anderson’s breakthrough album and was probably the gateway for many into the world of experimental music. It’s a blend of cool synth and artful song structure that is almost danceable at times (O’ Superman was a club hit apparently) and lets the listener’s mind wander to find new points of view. Opening with a song “sung” by a pilot on a commercial airline, the listener is taken on a musical journey through Laurie’s slightly askew world where violins and vocoders create a soundscape that’s simply constructed yet sounds full bodied.

While Big Science wasn’t my personal entry into the world of avant garde music, it is my favorite experimental album. The minimalist approach (which is likely carried over from how she performs live) is an inspiration as she is able to cover a lot of sonic space with very little while creating a unique sound that is very palatable, which is NOT an easy thing to do. It’s a reminder that you don’t need 100 tracks and tons of instruments, but rather a few instruments and some unique ideas to really stand out from the crowd.

TRML’s Sound Selections #13

The Flaming Lips - Concert For Peace

The Flaming Lips – Onboard the International Space Station Concert For Peace

The Flaming Lips have never been ones to embrace conventions. Their live(ish) album Onboard the International Space Station Concert For Peace (hereafter written as “Onboard…”) is no exception to this ethos. It’s a selection of tracks from their Oczy Mlody album reworked similar to how they are performed live, but framed in the context of a concert in space. For any other band this might sound silly, but for the Flaming Lips? Right on brand. In fact, I’d expect no less from Wayne and the boys. The sound of the album is out there, but in a stripped down kind of way. It’s studio produced, for sure, but the songs all take on a new vibrant life in these “live” versions. The illusion of this being a live show is well maintained throughout as well. The audience reactions are well curated and very authentic-sounding to the point you can practically identify at what point Wayne rides around on the unicorn throwing confetti at the crowd.

Having seen the Flaming Lips live, I feel I have something of a deeper appreciation for what this album is doing. It’s a pretty good analogue to an actual live recording and has a fun concept to boot. You get the psychedelic “jams” and the sense of fun of their live shows (You almost want to cheer along with the “audience” when Wayne breaks into the vocoder solo!), but without having to think of the poor venue cleaning crew that will have to sweep up the (possibly literal) ton of confetti afterwards. With Onboard…, the Lips managed to capture the delight of their live shows and beam it all the way from space to your stereo. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #12

Elvis Costello - King of America

The Costello Show – King of America

Over his career, Elvis Costello has released 32 albums ranging in style, making it hard to pick one to feature first for TRML’s Sound Selections. Ultimately, after some deep soul searching, I went with King of America. Elvis’ 1986 outing is a country album distilled through the eyes of a kid from England (with the help of the legendary T Bone Burnett). It’s an album that ranges from folk to rock and uses the country “twang” like bit of spice, flavoring the songs here and there to give them a bit of added character. Some songs are “spicier” than others (Glitter Gulch, anyone), but no matter how flavorful the songs get, it always sounds like an Elvis Costello album and never Elvis Costello emulating others. Even the Nina Simone cover, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” is made his own and doesn’t sound like a simple cover. It’s an album that shows Elvis’ range as a songwriter and a musician and is a shining example of his artistic capabilities.

King of America is by far my favorite Elvis Costello album. He has many great albums, some of which are probably more accessible and a better introduction to his music than King of America, but for me this album is where it’s at. Besides the interesting country infusion, the songs are all very well written, with some of the best wordplay you’ll ever hear. My personal favorite track is “Indoor Fireworks,” which deliciously alludes to the various parts of a fireworks display to describe a struggling relationship. The wordplay in that song is a masterclass in molding one concept around the skeleton of another to create a whole piece. Really this whole album can be seen as a masterclass in songwriting. Elvis has always had a knack for writing interesting lyrics that, when heard, you know are his. This album is an excellent example of that skill and well worth a listen.