Expanding on Beth Lee & The Breakups’ big-Texas/roadhouse-blues sound exemplified by 2016’s Keep Your Mouth Shut, Beth Lee releases her impressive solo debut, Waiting On You Tonight. An 11-song sequence that highlights the Austin-based artist’s songwriting craft and performative charisma, Waiting on You Tonight emerges as one of 2021’s early benchmarks for Americana album of the year.
The project opens with the title cut, featuring a bare-bones rhythmic approach that could’ve been borrowed from John Lee Hooker, The Ramones, Lucinda Williams, or Alejandro Escovedo, a song at once bluesy, punkish, and country-inflected. A fiery guitar solo further expands the track’s sonic spectrum. Lee’s voice is even-keeled, wistful yet confident, casual yet commanding.
“Yale St and 45” is a melodic, vocal, and instrumental gem. The song’s folk-rock tempo, Stones-ish guitar licks, and Lee’s prominent vocal bring to mind the dynamic mixes of Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud. “The tries and the hard times / we did the best we could / I waited for the day when / it would end for good,” Lee sings, reflecting on a difficult period for which she also feels a certain fondness: “If I ever get back to Houston / I’ll be happy to make it by / Yale Street and 45.”
With “Playin’ Along,” “I Won’t Give In,” and “Birthday Song,” Lee’s voice drags slightly behind the beat, creating a psychedelic/stoner effect à la Lera Lynn/“The Only Thing Worth Fighting For.” “Pens and Needles” is a rollicking and lo-fi-ish track, layered backup vocals on the chorus forging a late-night-at-the-bar singalong effect. Lee’s voice, steady amidst adrenalized guitar parts and head-bobbing rhythms, is drawly but cosmopolitan, Music Row meets the Bowery, Grand Ole Opry meets CBGB.
“It Was Enough” further expands the album’s range, a narcotized cross between the ’50s Nashville sound and ’90s neo-psychedelia. The album closes with the dreampop-indebted “All the Way,” Lee’s voice sultrily slurred, bringing to mind Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. “I’ve been trying hard to be alone / but I’m used to you and it feels like home / I don’t wanna be a part of anyone / but it feels right with you here in my arms,” Lee sings, craving the simplicity of solitude and the reliable sensuality of her lover’s presence.
Vicente Rodriguez, who also contributes drums, percussion, and bass on various tracks, deserves credit as the album’s producer, facilitating a variety of atmospheres that complement and enhance Lee’s songs and vocals.
Waiting On You Tonight is engaging throughout, each song melodically and/or texturally distinct. Striking a balance between emotional complexity and tuneful immediacy, Lee is well-versed on various genres, grounded in her own vision, her own signature talent.