EZRA LEE - DEATH ROLL
Ezra Lee - ‘Death Roll’
Released 10th January 2022
Reviewed by Kate, 19th August 2022
Ezra Lee (Piano and Vocals)
Travis Wammack (guitar)
JM Van Eaton (Drums)
Produced by Dizzy Davidson at Wishbone Studios, Alabama.
One look at Ezra Lee and it’s clear that you’re dealing with the coolest cat in the Southern Hemisphere. He’s been playing blues piano since the age of four and has been a professional musician since the tender age of fourteen. Originally from the sleepy country town of Tamworth in New South Wales, Lee has toured all over the world and brought back some of that Memphis sound to Australia via his all star backing band (featuring Little Richard collaborators and Sun Records alumni). ‘Death Roll’ is Lee’s ninth studio album and comes hot off the back of a collaboration with the legendary Linda Gail Lewis.
Let’s take it easy and check out these tracks one by one:
‘Death Roll’: The title track is instrumental and sets us up for the journey that this album is going to take us on: namely, a smokey, swampy trip across the south powered by Lee’s rolling piano and supported by Wammack’s teasing, chiming blues guitar. A relatively short track with the sounds of crocodile enjoying his lunch in the background, ‘Death Roll’ whets our appetite for more.
‘My Name is Ezra Lee’: Lee promises us that we’ll have a ‘good rocking time tonight’, and he delivers! This song is timeless in a really good way and can’t be pinned down to any time or place, only to wherever the piano is hot and the drinks are cold. The vocals don’t sound like they should emerge from a guy in his thirties and instead should be coming out of an old-time juke box.
‘Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll’: If the last song was timeless, this one is firmly in the fifties and gives Wammack more time and space to let us appreciate his guitar work. The deliberate underproduction on this record really contributes to an authentic sound here and it’s such a gorgeous touch to include. Yes, it’s a Billy Lee Riley cover so it’d be easy to reproduce exactly to create a fifties sound, but Lee’s put his own spin on it to re-imagine this tune.
‘Short Short Skirts’: Lee’s ode to beautiful rockabilly ladies is faster, louder and more commercial than the previous songs and is powered by his solid, Jerry Lee-style piano. This is a really great track that will go down so well at Viva Las Vegas if he heads over for the festival this year!
‘Gladstone Rock’: Another instrumental, this time far more perky and upbeat, but with the casual blues guitar preventing this song from becoming saccharine. Lee does this instrumental so well, showcasing his piano style without overshadowing his collaborators.
‘Hey Mr Piano Man’: There’s a darker tone on this song about a mysterious man who carries his own piano and brings music to those around him, and with the definite bash of the final chords we get a refreshing shot of intrigue on this record.
‘Play that Rocking Boogie’: We’re now firmly into blues territory, and we want to indulge Lee when he sings ‘let me loose on that old piano’ because by this point we all know that it’s going to be solid gold when he plays. There’s nothing wrong with a solid blues number slotted into the middle of a rockabilly record and this song fits it to a tee.
‘That’s how you move me’: All of the songs on this record are disappointingly short, and I hope they get extended when Lee plays them live because this is such a great showcase of Eaton’s drumming and I’m dying to hear more. This is a short, sweet shout-out to a lady who puts on all the moves.
‘Swamper’s Stomp’: A powerful instrumental that really doesn’t sound like it was recorded this century, and I am so into that. We get a little bit of organ coming in discretely to give this song a revival feel and take us mentally to a field somewhere in America in a bygone era.
‘Cool Clear Water’: Surprisingly, this is not a cover of Marty Robbins! Instead, a proud Lee sings about his own musical experience, and with a scream, holler and burst of guitar twang we ‘re on a real rolling home stretch to this record.
‘Wild One’: Finishing this record on a triumphal note, Lee reminds us why he’s in demand all over the globe. There’s this playful guitar countering the piano and a strength to Lee’s voice that’s assertive and appealing. This song is bound to be a huge hit at this live shows and if the audience’s feet aren’t moving when this one’s played, there must be something wrong with them!
With a seven-year break in between solo records, expectations were high for Ezra Lee’s return. He has reached them and then some with this effortlessly retro album that brings together musicians from across the rock n roll family tree and sounds like it’s come straight from an old country jukebox. If you’re in Melbourne or see that Ezra Lee is coming to a town near you, I heartily recommend you check him out and bring your dancing shoes with you!