Forget everything you think you know about American Idol Season Nine winner Lee Dewyze. Who? You ask. Exactly, well done. Lee was the recipient of the American Idol crown in what to date had been the lowest rated season, finale and the poorest album sales by a winner in the show's illustrious history.
Chicago-native Lee DeWyze had a pre-Idol history that would be voted by some as marginally successful with two records with indie label WuLi records and groomed under the tutelage of former Ministry guitarist Louis Svitek. That gave the kid some street cred and a strong local following. Auditioning for Idol on a fluke, Lee admittedly was never a fan of the show and wanted to see what would happen. He was a dark horse all season who garnered more attention with each strong performance and even ole Simon Cowell became Team Lee by the end of it all telling Lee on more than one occasion that he was "heads and shoulders above the competition."
Fast forward to a dismal turnout for the "American Idol LIVE!" tour and the usual "hurry up and put out a record you little workhorse/minstrel" pressure by the powers that be and what our bluesy, folky, Southern rocky hero put out was nothing but Adult Contemporary fluff. I'm talking bad, people. Live It Up was Lee's post-Idol release that seemed like it was written before they even knew Lee existed and just needed his voice to sell it. There was no soul, surprise, or even intrigue to the album. It was bad and forgettable. And forget about it, the public largely did.
Fast-forward again to now and Lee seems to have settled back into himself artistically. Having the RCA Records monkey and all their expectations off his back and not having to defend a record he knew wasn't what he could and wanted to do seems to have done wonders for him. Lee is now with Vanguard records and has said everything that has happened up to now was to get him here, to Frames because it's the record he was always supposed to make.
It's not a huge secret that I'm a big Lee DeWyze fan, I love his voice, period. His previous record was such a letdown after his two indie efforts being so good and solid. This album, Frames is the record I thought he'd put out after his Idol victory. Took us three years to get here but, I think Lee wins big with this one and it's a piece of work that clearly illustrates who he is.
Leading us off is "Fight" and it along with the first single "Silver Linings" have been compared to Idol winner of two years ago, Phillips Phillips' monster hit of last summer, "Home." There are a couple things these naysayers need to know before they jump on this bandwagon: "Home" and "Silver Linings" share a co-writer, this folk sound is in Lee's wheelhouse, not Phillip's (Mr. Phillips saying himself that "Home" is not a song he would have written as he's more a jazz and rock sort of fellow.) and lastly - watch his American Idol performance of "Hey Jude" if there aren't tinges of his over the top and high energy folk sensibilities there then my name is Fred. Also, please take a moment to do some research and listen to his first two releases So I'm Told and Slumberland. Frames is clearly a continuation of what he started at 17 with So I'm Told.
Stepping off my soapbox now and getting back to the music, kids. Sorry, I get a little passionate about this lunkhead. "Fight" is a guitar-driven foot stomper that would be a blast to watch live and is the perfect choice to lead us off. "I would fight, and I would beg. I just want to hear you say that tonight will be alright if you will stay...so put your hand in mine, we'll be fine."
"Fire Away" has a bluesy-rock vibe with a fun urgency to it. There are unnecessary vocal embellishments that we all know I'm not a fan of in cases like Lee's where it's just not needed, regardless, it's a cool sounding and fun song. "Silver Lining" is the lead single off Frames and rightly so. It's the most commercial sounding song with a big chorus and fun lyrics. This song is exactly what I would expect from Lee after hearing his live performances and previous releases (Live It Up not included). Nice mellow guitar lead-in and story telling from Lee, which is his strong suit. This follows a couple that take turns supporting and lifting each other up. Anyone who wants to call LDW a Phillip Phillips rip-off needs to watch Lee performing this song and PP performing his sound-a-like "Home" and tell me who is enjoying themselves more and 100 percent selling their song. Exactly.
An unexpected surprise for me is the title track "Frames" which starts off pleasantly and has a tinkling piano part that I love and is reminiscent of David Gray. Lee's voice shines here, low and husky and the song builds nicely. Then we get the good rasp that I just love. There's even a bonus f-bomb. "My heart is getting heavier, heavier than I ever thought it could." Been there, done that.
"Open Your Eyes" reminds me of "Where you lie" from Lee's earlier effort Slumberland with the slow lilting piano and vocals, it's a very pretty song with underlying passion. Skipping ahead now to "Don't Be Afraid" and it's another song that reminds me of David Gray, which isn't a shabby comparison at all. There's a bit of a jangley guitar and there's a quick pace, then Lee sounds like he should be growling and stomping in an Irish bar somewhere to a rowdy crowd.
The next few songs are pleasant but I want to save some word space for the last song on the non-deluxe edition, "Breathing In." This is clearly the end of a relationship and without even listening to the lyrics in the first few lines; I knew by his voice what was going on. It's like an opera. You don't have to know the language to feel the emotion. The lyrics "My arms are getting tired from carrying my load. And my eyes are getting tired because you turned the lights down low" made me brace myself because something that was unlocked from the opening of this song started to stir and I wasn't ready for it. Where he did me in was with "and your heart slowly beats, speaks under the sheets. I'm hearing every word...you're the only thing that's worth breathing in." Once again I'm a sucker for a song about a relationship ending and the tug and pull of emotions that go along with that.
While this is hands down a better album than Lee has ever put out, and there's no doubt it's fully who he is with folk, Southern rock and blues influences, I'd love to get a Lee album where all I hear is him. Kudos to you for this great piece of work, Mr. DeWyze, but next time I want to not hear or think of anyone else as I'm listening to your smooth, raspy voice. I'd say that's exactly where you're headed. I'll be speaking to Lee this week and will be sure to ask him about his thoughts on Frames and what's next.