In the days following the sad and untimely death of Phil Everly, one of the musicians who was regularly interviewed was guitarist Albert Lee. I’m willing to bet that most people watching and listening had never heard of Albert Lee, despite his long relationship the Everly Brothers. The fact that he had decided early in his career to play a style of music, country, that has rarely, if ever, been fashionable in the UK meant that he had to move to the USA before achieving real recognition, joining the Crickets in 1974, then replacing the legendary James Burton in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band in 1976. Anyway, for a few days in early January 2014, all of the old Everly Brothers songs were played across the media. I’m always happy to hear old classics reach a new audience, but the contrarian in me wanted to hear Albert Lee again, so I dug out my old vinyl copy of his second solo album, “Hiding”.
Somehow, in 1979, a single from this album managed to grab a bit of airplay, probably as a result of a particularly persistent plugger, or perhaps it was just a bit of a novelty. “Country Boy”, which opened the album, wasn’t ever going to win an Ivor Novello; it was a lyrical throwaway which showcased Albert Lee’s stunning guitar virtuosity. Throwaway or not, it grabbed my attention immediately and I scuttled off to BG Forbes to buy a copy of the album. Then back to the flat as quickly as possible to introduce vinyl to stylus while avidly reading all of the credits and sleeve notes (even an insert in this case) while listening to the album. I’ve bought many albums on the strength of one song, and I’ve been disappointed almost as many times; nothing else on “Hiding” sounded like “Country Boy” but that didn’t matter because they were all great songs.
Looking at the playing and writing credits, there were a few surprises, even with my limited knowledge of the country scene at that time. Names like Emmylou Harris and Don Everly stood out even then, but looking back with a historical perspective and greater knowledge, Buddy Emmons, Glen D Hardin, Ricky Scaggs, Rodney Crowell, Hank DeVito and Buddy Emmons were highly-respected country players at that time. More of a surprise was the inclusion of songs and performances by Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock who, after nearly twenty years as backing musicians, were now carving out a career performing cockney novelty songs. Actually I wasn’t surprised; I was gobsmacked, particularly after hearing the album’s second song, “Billy Tyler”, a Hodges/Peacock country original. I loved the song from the first time I heard it and I still love it now. I know Dean Owens will probably disagree with me here, but I think it’s the best song they ever wrote. And those are only the first two songs on the album.
“Are you Wasting my Time” is a tasteful cover of the Louvin Brothers classic with Albert Lee taking lead vocal and harmonies alongside Ricky Scaggs. “Now and Then It’s Gonna Rain”, with backing from Chas and Dave, is a country/rock song which hints at earlier Eagles material and side one closes with the beautiful Rodney Crowell ballad “On a Real Good Night”.
The side two opener is “Setting me Up”, a riff-based country/rock song written by the relatively unknown (in 1979) Mark Knopfler which is followed by another Rodney Crowell song “Ain’t Living Long like This”, a shuffle with a hint of the Buster Brown classic, “Fannie Mae”. The album’s title song is another ballad, written by Steven Rhymer (what a great name for a songwriter) and featuring backing vocals from Don Everly. The album closes out with the slow rocker, “Hotel Love”, and “Come up and See Me Any Time”, another Chas and Dave song featuring the dynamic duo themselves on piano and bass.
The album’s a classic because Albert Lee does all the things he does best; he plays guitar, sings lead and harmony vocals and chooses some tremendous songs and players to help him display these talents. There’s only one writing credit for him on “Hiding” but his interpretations of songs by other writers are arranged and played to perfection. You can hear suggestions of other artists including Iain Matthews (another wonderful interpreter of songs) and Eric Clapton but the overall sound is pure Albert Lee. I guess it’s not difficult to see why it wasn’t a hit in the UK in 1979 as post-punk took over from punk, but it has aged very well over the thirty-five years since its release. Even if you don’t normally follow links these articles, have a look at the live performance of “Country Boy” with Vince Gill. It’s not just about the great playing; the audience love it and you can see that the band loves it too. Give it a listen.