There is a symmetry in the release of Lee’s final album Still On The Road to Freedom last year – sad to state after his death yesterday – in how its title echoes that of his first solo release of 1973 On The Road to Freedom, and the fact that the final track Love Like a Man 2 is a reprise of the Ten Years After classic from the band’s 1970 album Cricklewood Green.
Forty years after that initial solo album, this is a work that continues the thoughtful boogie and blues of Lee’s highly respected career, and as a solo artist the music was always more expansive than just blistering solos, not that those solos are unwelcome nor missing entirely. Indeed, opener Still On The Road to Freedom contains riffs that highlight Lee’s continued skill and speed, though it is masterful rather than blistering. Lee’s signature vocal is also very evident for example on chugging blues and fourth track Save My Stuff, graced with a short and simple acoustic solo, and instrumental focus given over to harmonica. There’s rock’n’roll in the jaunty I’m a Lucky Man and lively electric guitar throughout. Sixth Walk On, Walk Tall is a simple acoustic folk number, and that simplicity characterises the confident comfort of the whole, with no need to grandstand. Eighth Song of the Red Rock Mountains is an acoustic instrumental and it is beautiful, again simply realised but perfectly so.
There’s a wittily ironic reflection on the past with tenth track Back In ‘69, commenting on the hippie ideal compared with its lineage through to today [one imagines it observing on the most extreme and obnoxious example of someone like Ted Nugent] and again there is some brief but welcome guitar virtuosity. All the tracks are relatively brisk, as with penultimate Rock You, a funky number that could have happily grooved the listener for some time but simply teases at 1.35. It does, however, set us up for closer Love Like a Man 2 at nearly seven minutes, the longest track on the album. We finish on again a simple and familiar riff with the guitar work at times deceptively complex and skilled because it is there in the back and through the mix rather than foregrounded at volume. That is perhaps the finest example of Lee’s comfort with his talent and life as a musician, sadly ended too soon. There is a closing hidden track too on this album, which seems to empathise with that observation, a gentle and pretty acoustic solo that delights but is over very quickly. One thing we can say of Lee’s career is that he packed much of considerable value and worth into those 40 years, both critically and we can assume personally with a loving family who have observed on his death ‘We have lost a wonderful and much loved father and companion, the world has lost a truly great and gifted musician.’