According to the available information, the Bobby Lees are a four-piece band that comes from New York state, somewhere around the Woodstock area. Lead singer and guitarist Sam Quartin has a foot in the indie film realm and has worked with names like Melissa Leo, Ron Perlman, Crispin Glover, Marilyn Manson, Michael Pitt, et al. She’s got performances in several indie features, like Body Brokers, Run With the Hunted, By the Rivers of Babylon, and Tyger Tyger, all of which are set for release this year. Then, the band has shared bills with other happening names like the Chats, Murphy’s Law, Future Islands, Shannon & The Clams, and Boss Hog, to name a few. Stylistically speaking, that’s a pretty vast list of artists, which speaks to the level of broad-spectrum appeal that the Bobby Lees have the potential of generating.
The rest of the band is comprised of Kendal Wind, Macky Bowman, and Nick Casa, on bass, drums, and guitar, respectively. Their new (and second) full-length album, Skin Suit, was produced by the underground rock icon Jon Spencer. Because people are inherently silly creatures, you might come across the occasional talking head pontificating about Jon’s inevitable influence being explored throughout this album. Has the band benefitted by having someone as esteemed and vital as Jon Spencer? Probably. It’s a likely reason to recruit someone as influential as Jon Spencer to begin with. But with their gritty, warts-and-all kind of method, the Bobby Lees have their own oddball trip happening, using their own voice.
There’s a cliché about the idea of controlled chaos where bands push the music to the point of dangerously riding the proverbial rails. But that concept doesn’t necessarily fit the ‘Bobby Lees’ model’, per se. They’re more of a ‘throw caution to the wind’ kind of band. As it accompanies Sam’s frenetic vocal deliveries, the music does in fact tend to veer off of those rails sometimes. But it works perfectly for them because they’ve got the ability to rein it all back in line again and sell it like it was meant to be that way all along. It’s a part of their charm.
As a band the Bobby Lees’ are cultivating a bluesy, psycho garage punk brimming with uninhibited vital energy that’s gritty and spontaneous. Early on, Skin Suit shows you a lot of what you can expect to hear as the record plays through. The album is a winner all around, but it’s got some key tracks that give it its highlights. “Move” opens the album up with a feral spirit and demonstrates the band’s warts-and-all attitude and their unadulterated candor inside of the finished recording. “Riddle Daddy” is a great example of their ability to deliver with more complex pieces, especially where percussion’s presence is concerned. They create a great opportunity for themselves to let each instrument shine singularly on “Redroom.” There’s a moment of some great relative psychedelia that manifests on “Wendy.” “Last Song” gives off a contemporary ‘50s-esque vibe with its cascading shimmers. Then, their version of the Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ classic “Blank Generation” closes the album with a reverence for the traditional while they ‘modernize’ it with their unique approach.
The band really is the sum of its parts. Sam’s vocals emanate a primal urgency that sometimes seems close to reaching a critical mass, threatening complete combustion. A lot of the same characteristics—with things like sharp, terse movements, jagged edges that cut through the tension, angular musical passages—are discernable in the music itself. Regardless of any sort of stylistic exploration that might be visited upon, the music is always propelled by a staunch, sturdy rhythm section of rolling bass lines and kinetic percussion that holds everything together, even when it sounds like the apparatus could veer out of control. Listen to the songs thoroughly, you can hear each instrument’s contribution to the big picture. Every member counts.
Despite the abilities the band has to introduce complicated elements into their music, they don’t have a problem maintaining their inherent minimalism. Their natural rawness, along with their dominating energy, is both fun and essential to their individual style. It’s part of why they’ve developed into such a formidable band so quickly. Bands like the Bobby Lees are important because they’re reminders that people do in fact still care about the fundamentals and what it is that those fundamentals are capable of producing in competent hands. When a band like this does what just comes naturally for them, they continue to carry on the revered traditions with contemporary relevance to a musical style that truly is an artform.