I’ll Come Back

Maybe it’s a double-edged sword to call someone a prodigy, so I won’t use the word here.

Even so, 23-year-old AJ Lee, singer/songwriter/mandolin player/bandleader extraordinaire is something special. For starters, she launched her bluegrass career at age 7, along with her guitarist Sullivan Tuttle, who was then 9. They started out as members of The Tuttles, a family band that also included Sullivan’s older sister Mollie.

Lee and the Tuttles are impressive products of the vital California Bluegrass Association’s Youth in Bluegrass Program.  I’m sure this is a big part of the reason, along with a bundle of innate talent propelled by a mountain of grit and determination, that Lee has emerged as such an impressive, multi-faceted musician. Her singing and her original songs convey, by turns, a soulfulness, tenderness, world-weariness and a bluesy edge well beyond her years.

On this album, Lee & Blue Summit have set aside some of the more progressive explorations of their previous work and concentrated on capturing their live sound. The band’s excellent chops are showcased with an in-your-face immediacy that can hear on tracks like “Put Your Head Down,” a high-energy gospel outing and “When You Change Your Mind,” a meditation on the more ambivalent and darker hazards of falling precipitously in love.

On some numbers, like the adventuristic, jazzy “Lemons And Tangerines,” the band dances around the outer edges of bluegrass, while on others—like the aptly named “Back To Bluegrass”—they plunge right in, with galvanizing results.

One of many songs worth singling out is “Monongah Mine.” This historical ballad not only recounts a nearly forgotten 1907 mining tragedy, but also explores its broader political and cultural consequences.

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