When it comes to Woodstock-era English blues guitar, there isn’t a more underrated axe than Alvin Lee. Yet his blistering fret work as the frontman for Ten Years After continues to resonate through the steel strings of such modern-day mavericks as Jack White, Dan Auerbach and Guy Davis Jr. as adroitly as fellow Brits Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, whom the guitarist should be placed alongside more regularly in terms of his influence on the art of those who came after him.
And on the 40-years-in-the-making sequel to his landmark 1973 LP On the Road to Freedom, co-billed with American gospel great Mylon LeFevre, Lee burrows into his roots in not only the blues but jazz and outlaw country as well with his strongest set of material in many years. Still On the Road to Freedom might not harbor the kind of star power its predecessor may have brandished with cameos from such marquee names as George Harrison, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Mick Fleetwood and Ron Wood. But with a tight unit comprised of longtime cohorts Pete Pritchard on bass and drummer Richard Newman and keyboardist Tim Hinkley, Lee takes a relaxed journey through his past while bringing his 50-year pedigree into the modern age.
As with just about everything he’s done since his days as leader of the underrated British Invasion act The Jaybirds, a deep love for Southern American blues flows through the bloodstream of Freedom, perhaps his purest LP in that sense since Ten Years. "Save My Stuff" echoes the country blues 78s he grew up listening to, while Naturally-era J.J. Cale is evoked on "Nice and Easy". Meanwhile, Lee utilizes a fusion of syncopated African rhythms and a loop based upon a sample of the late King Crimson drummer Ian Wallace for the AOR nod "Listen to Your Radio Station" and draws inspiration from New Orleans R&B pioneer Smiley Lewis’ chestnut "I Hear You Knocking" to transform the deep Cricklewood Green cut "Love Like A Man" into something you’d hear on the HBO series Treme with a nod to his burning love for Sun Records rock to boot.
Still on the Road to Freedom is a refreshing return to form from one of England’s most invincible guitar gods.