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Gabe Lee Is Here to Tell His American Story in ‘Drink the River’

Gabe Lee has managed to package a prayer, a truth, and a dream in one album. Drink the River, his fourth studio album, delivers this trifecta through each of its nine songs, doling them out in a way that feels like both a fever and a fairytale. 

He’s here to tell stories, after all. Specifically, ones he’s collected since Farmland in 2019 and left Nashville, only to come back again. While his 2022 album The Hometown Kid solidified Lee as one of the city’s most promising contenders, Drink the River is a declaration of his promise to become one of the heartland’s greatest storytellers.

The album pulls back the instrumentals in favor of the fiddle, mandolin, and banjo, digging into the bluegrass influence that has always traced Lee’s work and showcasing some of the best string players in town including Grand Ole Opry members Jason Roller and Eamon McLaughlin. 

“I wanted to refine the stories. I wanted to get really gritty, I wanted people to hear these words, and really feel something… And that’s why we stripped it,” Lee tells Rolling Stone. “We scaled it all the way back to just acoustic instruments for the most part and it’s beautiful… I think we succeeded in capturing that respect for language, respect for storytelling, in this record.”

The album sweeps open with “The Wild,” an ode to the incessant search to break free of reality’s “gravity.” The tempo gently lifts as Lee sings, “I’m a reckless child, born to the wild/A set of broken wings, falling out the tree/If I were heaven sent, would I be so hellbent on all this misery weighing down on me?” It’s a sentiment later echoed in “Eveline.”

The ballad winds into “Even Jesus Got the Blues,” telling a woman’s story of addiction on the “dark side of the road” as she prays, “Make me an angel lord, find me a way.” While the song, which narrates the country’s opioid epidemic, could lean into the tragic, Lee is careful to portray her story with hope and beauty, setting it against a sanguine velocity that feels cathartic.

“Drink the River,” the album’s lead single and perhaps most compelling track, positions itself as an answer to its predecessor, offering love in the face of misfortune. For the chorus, Lee confesses, “I can’t drink the river to dry the land/Bury the ocean beneath the sand,” before vowing, “But I can love you until the tide pulls me under by and by.”

It’s a divergence that the Nashville native cements in “Heart Don’t Break,” where he presses, “Don’t you know? Under it all, there’s a fine line between the darkness and the dawn.” 

Lee dips back into the beautiful and the somber with “Merigold,” tracing the story of a man in Mississippi losing someone to cancer, who pleads, “Lord, please pick up the phone, I want you to know, you can take me when she goes” and when he delivers the line, you can feel him aching to follow her into the delta.

The record bids goodbye with tongue-in-cheek “Property Line,” a song that paints a landscape of “a hundred acres outside of Birmingham” and a man’s relentless, stubborn protection of his land and values. Like in “All I Can Do Is Write About It” earlier in the album, Lee once again simultaneously takes on Americana while also paying homage to it.


When asked who he writes these songs for, Lee says, “I’m doing it for the kid version of me who wanted to be noticed that I was different, but was trying so hard to assimilate into the culture that I grew up around. But also, I didn’t want to lose my roots, my origin. I’m so proud of being in Tennessee and being in Nashville, and I’m equally maybe even more proud of my parents being immigrants from Taiwan. So, if I’m doing it for anything, it’s definitely, the spirit of that… bridging those gaps.”

As Drink the River sways from the “beauty of the hills of Carolina to the sweetness of the grass in Tennessee,” each line Lee pens offers a roadmap of the American story, one that stretches, spins, and continues to unfold somewhere between the darkness and the dawn.

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