If nothing else, country music is about nostalgia, the sad realization that you can never quite go home again, even if you never leave. On Gabe Lee’s The Hometown Kid, Lee illustrates that you can come from a big city and feel the same way about home as a little-pink-house-residing small-town purist might. Lee evokes loneliness, alienation, and pride in his hometown of Nashville on his third studio album.
The Hometown Kid was recorded between stints on the road, enabling Lee to truly embody the push and pull of loving where you’re from, marveling when it changes, and enjoying leaving just as much as coming back again. “Wide Open” illustrates Lee’s deep sense of place and history for a town known primarily for its music industry.
Lee made a splash with his previous album, Honky Tonk Hell, propelling his rock and roll with his scrappy yowl. The Hometown Kid has plenty of that swagger: “Rusty” and “Lucky Stars” will rev you up and are guaranteed crowd pleasers when Lee tears down the house live. Lee exudes confidence and warmth, inviting you to borrow some if you’re in short supply. “Rusty” celebrates the wild abandon of Lee’s touring life: Home is great, but so is going somewhere else.
On the other hand, “Over You” and “Angel Band” represent a different homecoming. Lee slows things down to a luxurious gait and graceful gospel flourishes. This might seem like a surprising shift compared to Lee’s punk-infused honky-tonk, but Lee performs like he’s sung gospel his whole life, because he has. His mother played piano at their church. The songs are not overtly religious, but there is a sense of reverence here — for his family’s journey, and for the side of Nashville that most outsiders don’t think about.
With The Hometown Kid, Lee proves himself as a versatile songwriter and performer with a profound love of all of the Nashville sounds, though the gentle steel guitar wafting throughout the album certainly suits him. Most of the songs are character studies, showing us Lee’s eye for a story and characters. Lee is formidable already, but he’ll be an even more powerful songwriter as he dives deeper into his vulnerability.
Gabe Lee’s The Hometown Kid is out Oct. 28 via Torrez Music Group.