CD Review: AJ Lee & Blue Summit – I’ll Come Back

Late on a Saturday afternoon in August my mobile phone flashed a notification that I had received a message from Michael Sassano.

“Hmm.. this should be good” I thought as I opened the note to find he had sent a link with a simple admonition: “Go to this.”

“This” it turns out was a concert to be held the following evening at The Barn at Hardeman Orchards in Red Hook featuring AJ Lee and Blue Summit – a band I was unfamiliar with but soon became a devoted fan of. It was indeed good. Very very good. The usual and more extraordinary superlatives applied to all aspects of the event – the weather, the location (we learned from the band after a swim that there are freshwater jellyfish in the orchard pond), the musicians and their abilities both individually and collectively together with an appreciative audience that included our own Lynn Lipton who has been a fan and follower of the band for years emerged from the crowd and said “They have a new album coming out – would you like to review it?”

Thankfully I said yes.
I’ll Come Back> is the latest collection of tunes from San Jose CA native AJ (Aissa Joelle) Lee and Blue Summit – an impressive band comprised of AJ Lee’s clean articulate mandolin playing and singing the songs she has crafted in her clear, pure and powerful voice with Jesse Fichman providing the perfect complement in harmony vocals and solid and skillful rhythm and lead guitar. Longtime collaborator Sullivan ‘Sully’ Tuttle (Yes – those Tuttles) provides outstanding guitar (“How’d he do that?!”) and sonorous baritone vocals. Jan Purat is an extraordinary fiddler who catches the listener’s ear and draws them into the melody as it unfolds while Chad Bowen’s bass provides the steady framework for the band to explore new directions both in original material and classic bluegrass. It’s not surprising they were chosen as winners of the 2019 FreshGrass Band competition.

Track List:
As it opens the recording “Lemons and Tangerines” raises the listener’s curiosity and appetite to hear more by describing an unusual tree bearing two kinds of fruit and with an irresistible Motown feel. Jesse Fichman and Ms. Lee trade their respective instruments on this one.

“Something Special” is a heartfelt love song and features a mesmerizing fiddle break propelled by the steady percussive mandolin and full sound of both guitars.

“When You Change Your Mind” offers advice as the object of one’s affection administered with blistering tremolo from the guitar and fiddle.

“I’ll Come Back” the album’s title track opens with a cascade of notes and affords a lush soundscape created by instruments and voices.

The tragic disaster that lead to the creation of the United States Bureau of Mines is carefully memorialized in “Monongah Mine.”

“Back to Bluegrass” is a trip to the heart of the genre complete with “..shivers when the tenor sings high”.

“Put Your Head Down” is a request to pray delivered in earnest and with forceful driving rhythm that will not be resisted.

“Faithful” is an up tempo barn burner giving the instrumental virtuosi a chance to stretch out.

Fiddler Jan Purat has crafted a modern masterpiece in the tune “Rodney Dangerfield” with dazzling guitar and fiddle breaks.

“Not Gonna Cry Over You” leaves heartbreak in a cloud of fiddle, guitar and mandolin dust.

“Magdalene” closes the collection with a song of unrequited love but unlike the song there is much here you will find to fall in love with and to be certain you won’t find disappointment with this recording.

Matt Bowe

Our reviewer Matt Bowe taught himself to play ‘Red River Valley’ on a red Montgomery Ward guitar when he was 9 years old. Thirty years later he taught himself to play the same tune on a red Gibson mandolin.

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