Local CD Review: Tim Lee 3's 'Devil's Rope'

Tim Lee 3
Devil's Rope

Let's just forget, for a moment at least, the whole concept of "roots rock."

Roots rock is really just rock—the way it used to sound before rock stars traded in their motorcycle jackets for scraggly beards and got all sensitive. There once was a time when writing a great rock album did not require sequestering yourself in a log cabin for a year. Instead, you would go out at night, have fun, maybe drink some beer—that's really all you needed to get in touch with your muse.

I have a hard time imagining Tim and Susan Bauer Lee contemplating the meaning of life on a snowy mountaintop and waiting for musical enlightenment. Rather, they seem more interested in living life, and the result is a lot more joyful: a veritable cornucopia of straight-ahead rock 'n' roll that just comes naturally to them. So much so, in fact, that they've got three new releases: Live From the Pilot Light (a mix of new and old songs, with drummer Bill Van Vleet), Quake Orphans (a live acoustic set from Morelock Music, with Cecilia Blair Miller on cello and Greg Horne on multiple stringed instruments), and Devil's Rope, the latest official Tim Lee 3 long-player (with current drummer Chris Bratta).

Recorded in Tuscon, Austin, and Knoxville, Devil's Rope bristles with the sort of rock music that begs to be played loudly on your car stereo. The psych-blues title track hooks you from the get-go with its hand-clap beat and slow-burn guitar licks; the bouncy "Monkey Dance" skewers the indie-rock lifestyle, tempered with judicious use of a toy xylophone; "Judging You" barrels along like an out-of-control Ranchero, punctuated with Craig Schumacher's howling harmonica.

Throughout, Tim Lee delivers a righteous guitar tone that's both tasteful and absolutely blistering. But the album's not-so-secret weapon is Susan Bauer Lee's lead vocals, providing a unique balance to the band's output, husband-and-wife yin and yang. Her songs tend to be less humorous than Tim's, even melancholic, but there's a life-affirming strength there that shines through, even when she sings things like "Everything is good these days, but all of my friends are dying," on "Open the Door."

For the last several years, the Tim Lee 3 have become a cornerstone of the Knoxville music scene—and Devil's Rope is a testament to their talents as pure rock 'n' rollers of a sort the world needs more of.

CORRECTION: Drummer Chris Bratta's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.