Minnesota born Palmer T. Lee, one half of acclaimed The Lowest Pair, steps out with his debut solo album Winebringer. Lee culled his inspiration for the album’s title from a collection of poems entitled The Book of the Winebringer composed by renowned Sufi poet Hafiz. The choice is deeply appropriate as a decidedly poetic feel envelopes the album from the first and reflects the introspective reach of Lee’s growing artistic powers. It likewise explores the personal cost incurred from a particularly difficult time in Lee’s life without ever finding the songwriting mired in obscurity. Instead, any discerning and emotionally alert listener will connect with the material with little effort and find the songs reveal deeper rewards with each new hearing.
The album’s subject matter is rather traditional in a way – Winebringer’s nine songs are a searching appraisal of the love and longing remaining following the end of a relationship. The intimate sound of the release brings it close to you – “Rag” opens things with Lee’s voice and acoustic guitar assuming a nearly spectral presence, but the lo-fi aspects of the recording only serve to draw you further in. Lee’s poetics are unquestionable, but the emotional tenor of his voice accentuates their quality. The patient unraveling of the opener’s arrangement continues with the second song “Aw Jeez”. Lee’s guitar work has no pretense of false virtuosity – instead, it serves the material while demonstrating obvious skill and the strain induced from ruined love comes through in its imagery and plain-spoken pleading.
“Fat Barred Owl” begins with particularly striking imagery never over-exerting itself for effect and the music has a slightly faster tempo than we hear with the album’s first two tracks. The guitar work is distinguished by some tasty embellishments that never distract listeners from the lyrical material. The album’s sixth cut, “Rice and Beets”, kicks off in ghostly fashion as Lee ruminates over a dream scene with hushed wonder. His songwriting completely brings us into the experience without ever overplaying its hand and, despite running over seven minutes, never tests our patience. It ends appropriately with a melancholy fade. Another high point arrives with the song “Moon You” and Lee is joined by an additional voice with moving results. The arrangement, likewise, moves beyond a reliance on his guitar work and bringing fiddle into the mix helps strengthen the longing in the heart of the song.
The album’s title song returns us to the customary marriage of Lee’s guitar and voice. His vocals reach new heights here – he is unafraid to push his voice hard in order to make the reality of his loss real for listeners and the level of lyrical detail reflects this as well. Often times such material can prove to be too much of a downer for us or, ultimately, self indulgent. There’s a telling control, however, in Lee’s artistry illustrating his ability to laden the tracks with significant detail and spare listeners any of the dross we might hear from lesser performers. Winebringer is an impressive achievement in every way from a songwriter, musician, and artist who has found his stride despite immense pain.