Will Lee is probably best known as the bassist in the CBS Orchestra, which has supplied music and comedy for the Late Show with David Letterman for a long time now. Lee was part of the CBS Orchestra since its inception on the network in 1993, but he also played on Letterman’s show for 11 years prior to that on NBC.
With Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions, Lee showcases another side of his artistic life. He is one hell of a session musicians, having played more than 1,700 studio dates since the late 1970s with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Cher, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Mariah Carey and Paul McCartney among the many names on his resume.
Lee’s last recording as a leader was Oh!, a 1993 disc that saw him take on covers like Jimi Hendrix’s “Drifting” and pairing with musicians like Jeff Beck. 20 years after that effort, Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions arrives as another distinctive collection of music.
“This music happened,” explains Lee. “It wasn’t premeditated, it wasn’t derivative of anyone else’s song or songs. In fact, there were many instances where I would stop writing if I thought an idea sounded like someone else’s. These songs just happened naturally.”
Even the most cursory of listens to the record picks up on that intuitiveness, as the songs really go where they must and tiptoe through the tulips of genre conventions with little regard for staying inside musical borders. The result is a very interesting, contrasting sound that makes each track an experience all its own.
“Gratitude” opens the album on a cloud. Lee’s vocals are insistent and loud, confidently proclaiming the lyrics. It’s an uplifting tune with plenty of synth swirl and soul. An example of just how diverse Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions is comes with the very next song: “Get Out of My Life Woman.” This blues jaunt is an Allen Toussaint tune that comes packed with the fuzzy jam of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Toussaint pops in for a lean and mean piano solo that follows Gibbons’ cool fretwork.
Some of the record’s most absorbing moments come in the form of its instrumentals. “Papounet’s Ride” is a trot that features Bob James on piano. There’s also Charlie Chaplin’s beautiful “Smile,” pushed into the light by Lee’s bass and Chuck Loeb’s guitar.
Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions really is among the more divergent recordings of the year. From the Steve Lukather guitar riffs of “Natives” to Akiko Yano’s uniquely textured tones on “1,2,3,” the pieces on Lee’s album combine to craft an enjoyable whole worth spinning a few times over.
This article was originally published at Something Else Reviews.