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At first listen, The Chris Lee Band could easily pass for the Saturday night house band at your favorite dive bar. But under that gritty guitar rock, these songs have much more depth to them. Though leader Chris Lee is backed by strong musicians drawn from several veteran bands (Rock City Morgue, Mojo Nixon, The Neptunes, and Lee’s other band, Supagroup, among others), this album essentially seems almost like a solo vehicle: Lee wrote and produced all the songs himself, and handled vocal and rhythm guitar duties. He has a lot to say about serious topics, mostly aimed at America’s current political situation – he is particularly pointed on “My Freedom Isn’t Free” and “Rockers on the Left.” Opening track (and first single) “Hail to the Strongman,” about a powerful con man, is also blatant, both lyrically and in its surging, soaring instrumentation. More subtle is “Yellow Soul,” which Lee wrote about his immigrant father, showing that he is equally unflinching even when he takes a more personal approach to his general socio-political theme. Through it all, the band keeps things rollicking along – while a couple of songs slow the pace a bit, there aren’t any real ballads here. It’s no surprise that Lee knows a thing or two about how to rile up a crowd: as the frontman for the even harder rocking Supagroup, he has logged more than 1,200 shows around the world, both as headliner and opening for the likes of Alice Cooper, Foo Fighters, and Queens of the Stone Age. It’s also no wonder that even on the most raucous numbers, Lee still displays an intellectual streak – he holds a master’s degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology from Tulane University in New Orleans. It’s that Crescent City connection that seems to have informed the music itself: the city’s notorious party vibe seems to have seeped deep into the core of this raucous, rough and tumble music. It’s a fine balance, putting such serious lyrics over high-spirited melodies, but this group gets it right most of the time. In the end, Protest Songs and Party Anthems is exactly as its title promises: sharp lyrics delivered over gregarious guitar rock.
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