Contrary to popular opinion, a great backstory isn’t a foolproof indicator a of a bluesman’s authenticity, much less his vision. But Gitlo Lee’s CV is admittedly impressive: he grew up on a Georgia swamp, built his own guitar when he was too poor to buy one, and had enough chops by his early teens to be courted by none other Sonny Boy Williamson II. Apparently only the wishes of his mother kept him from being Howlin’ Wolf. (As far as fate was concerned, anyway.)
He carved out a career as an East Coast sideman anyway, working the “chitlin’ circuit” for 40 years, but Gitlo Lee, at the tender age of sixtysomething, is only now getting around to his debut album, one that tries way too hard to sound as mythic as its PR. If you’re looking for yet another urban electric Chicago-style shuffle about “Big Legged Women” or a slow grind about a very non-metaphorical “Swamp Devil,” or if you just want a party anthem as skin-deep as “Give Me a Beer,” rush out and grab Comin’ Out the Hole. The good news for those of you with more discerning tastes is the other half of the album, slowed down to accommodate several solid Memphis soul-style blues ballads—“Ease Out,” “That Old Man,” “Angel,” and “Joe Brown”—that mine a much deeper pain than the juke-joint stuff. Whoever he may have been once, or maybe could have been, Gitlo makes a much better Little Milton than a Little Walter.