New Logo riveting riffs magazine AJ Lee Releases New EP
AJ Lee Photo One

For those of you who are reading this and thinking that Bluegrass music is a forgotten genre, I challenge you to spend one-half hour talking to nineteen year old Bluegrass singer, songwriter and musician AJ Lee, because by the time the conversation is over, she will have you ready to try your luck at Bluegrass and she may even have convinced you to try and recruit others. Lee has already been the recipient of numerous music awards in California and if her new self-titled EP, featuring a collection of six songs is any indication; her future looks to be shining pretty brightly.

Lee’s vocals on the opening track Gillian Welch’s “Miss Ohio,” are reminiscent of Alison Krauss when she was the same age. The electric guitar solos are excellent and unfortunately we do not have a breakdown of album credits by individual song, so we cannot tell you if it is Jon Abrams or Paul Lacques on his Telecaster. Throughout the album AJ Lee accompanies herself on her 1954 accoutic Martin guitar and at times on her mandolin. This may surprise some readers, but we prefer Lee’s vocals over Welch’s when it comes to the song “Miss Ohio,” because we with think AJ Lee’s vocals are more subtle and prettier, whereas Welch’s have more of a bite to them. We suppose the argument could be made that the lyrics lend themselves to Welch’s more sardonic take, but we still prefer Lee’s interpretation of a young woman cruising with her “rag-top down,” and who is resisting her mother’s persistent efforts to get her married off.

The rest of the musicians who appear on this EP are from the Shady Mountain Band, Dave Zirbel is on pedal steel, Marc Doten plays Hammond organ and the drummer is Anthony Lacques.

Lee says, “(The song) “Miss Ohio,” made people feel good when they listened to the song (at her shows). There is something about the melody and the words. Certain songs portray certain emotions or make people feel happy and they want to listen to them more often.”

The song “Hickory Wind,” was selected for this EP, because when AJ Lee performed it live she received a good reception from her audiences.

“There are other songs like “Just One Look,” that we were experimenting with different sounds. We just wanted to see how they did,” she says.

Although, serves up a tender and subtle rendition of “Just One Look,” she lacks the conviction of someone who is absolutely smitten when she serves up the lyrics, “I will get you some day,” and “I’m going to keep on scheming until I can make you my own.” When you are singing a love song your job as a singer is to convince the listener that you really are in love or to evoke some strong emotional response from the listener, so they say, yes I remember when I felt that way too.

Although AJ Lee has a good voice and the instrumentals on her self-titled album are excellent, she needs to find that ability to inhabit her songs, to not only be the voice singing the songs, but to become the songwriter's voice. That should come naturally enough when she writes her own tunes, but when you are covering a song written by someone else you have to find a way to "be in the moment," to both draw your audience in and to distinguish yourself from others in your genre and music in general. Rhonda Vincent did it, Ricky Skaggs found a way and so did Alison Krauss, all of whom made Bluegrass music their home and in the case of Alison Krauss she has become a success as a mega crossover artist. AJ Lee has the talent, now let's see if she has the desire to take her craft to the next level.

AJ Lee literally grew up in the California Bluegrass Association’s Kids On Bluegrass program, which as she says, “…encourages youg musicians to play with other people their own age and to get more experience communicating with adults, with communicating with each other and creating bands together, (as well as) being band leaders. It focuses on growing young people as people and as musicians.

All of the CBA members believe that music is an essential part of growing up and having a sense of community. Overall, we believe that music is very healthy to have in a person’s life.”

AJ Lee is also actively involved with Handsome Ladies a group that is focused on getting more women involved in Bluegrass music and also ensuring that they play a more prominent role in Bluegrass music.

She says, “It is a change, because traditionally Bluegrass was focused mostly on white males. I have noticed lately that there have been more women’s groups and there has been more support for women to play Bluegrass and more (opportunity) to be noticed.”

AJ Lee started performing as a child and now she is a young woman, so we asked her what advice would she like to share with teenage girls starting out in music today and secondly what advice would she share with their parents.

“I would like to tell teenage girls starting out if you get involved with Bluegrass and come to some jams and come to some festivals there is no way that you will be made fun of for skill level or for how you look or anything like that. You will immediately be accepted. There are plenty of people who will reach out and bring you to jams and say hey play on this song or will encourage you in any way possible.

I would tell any teen’s parents that it would be the best thing that they could offer their child the experience of trying something new and to have their son or daughter be involved in what I believe is something that shaped my life and made me the person that I am today,” she says.

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This interview by Joe Montague  published August 6th, 2017 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  This interview / review may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved