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CD REVIEW: Lee Penn Sky - Prelude to Hindsight
By Chip Withrow - 03/02/2008 - 01:46 PM EST

Artist: Lee Penn Sky
Album: Prelude to Hindsight
Genre: Folk/Rock
Sounds Like: Acoustic soul/country
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 9/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: I'm Spinning, Nebraska, Michigan, One and the Same
CD Review: I started listening to Lee Penn Sky’s fine new album at a very serendipitous time. I had just finished writing a song for my daughter, and the lovely first track of this disc, “Do As I Say,” is in the voice of a parent to a child. It’s simple and striking, just Penn Sky’s guitar and Jon Jon Stravers’ mandolin.

Then comes the bittersweet, love-that-could-have-been number, “Valentine’s Day.” Again, I had just penned my first-ever Valentine’s Day song for my wife. Penn Sky’s has a clever lyrical twist to his song, and John Cazan’s accordion lends a wistful touch.

On Prelude to Hindsight, Lee Penn Sky’s songwriting is direct and emotional. He is an accomplished rhythm acoustic guitar strummer, and his voice is smoky and rich, low and resonant.

“I’m Spinning” is a mid-tempo, full band number with a Van Morrison-meets-Counting Crows vibe. Great words too, in which the hapless narrator stumbles across Jesus, Buddha, and Moses. The yearning, searching “Roll On” is in a similar soulful vein, but it’s just acoustic guitar and Cazan’s eerie, echoing electric guitar. Its big finish has a hint of gospel. Then comes “A Ticket Home,” which also has a gospel-like intensity in its organ swoops and backup vocals.

I just went back and replayed “Nebraska” and “Michigan” because they are so cool, yet so different from each other. “Nebraska” is like nothing else on the disc, a stripped-down, desperate minor-key lament. Brent King’s mandolin soars, and the lyrical images are haunting and poetic. “Michigan,” an ode to a lover back home, is countrified, mellow, and loping. My wife and I have had some less-than-ideal Michigan vacation excursions, yet she digs this jangly tune.

“This Valley Will Burn” is notable because this is the way I picture Penn Sky in a live setting, just him and his guitar delivering a plaintive performance. On the other hand, the driving “One and the Same” is given a full-on ensemble treatment. It’s a train song with a great sing-along chorus.

I could here one of my favorites, the Allman Brothers Band, doing  stirring versions of the sweet ballads “Carolina Sings Softly” and “Best Will Show.” Cazan’s guitar is vibrant on “Carolina,” and Gayle Chapman adds powerful piano chords to “Show.” 

The live recording of “Willie and Poncho” is a nice touch to close the album, a saloon-friendly tribute to both Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt. A fitting close to a superb record that mines Americana and Americana for its magic.

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