Artist: Lee Moses
Album: How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1967–1973
Release date: May 24, 2019
The deal. Buddhists use the expression “Dharma is like a finger pointing at the moon” and it’s one I love. The idea is that words (the finger) are a tool to explain a concept but not the idea itself (the moon). I feel that way about press releases. They’re important, letting me know what’s coming out (the finger) but aren’t the actual music (the moon). The press release for Lee Moses’ How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1967–1973 sucked me in, though, with all of the talk about how he’s a mystery man. I wanted to hear what the mystery sounded like.
The album blew me away. Moses is an amazingly emotional singer and a thoughtful guitarist. He made a few singles and one album before disappearing from music. I worried I wouldn’t understand the compilation because I wasn’t familiar with his work as a whole, but the thing about talent like this is you understand it right away. It’s the moon. But what makes it so special? For one, Moses’ energy. He comes at every track like it’s the last thing he might ever sing. His voice is also fantastic, feeling like the good pain of touching a bruise. His voice is huge and unpolished, but in a beautiful way. It’s the same way an ugly piece of fruit might be the best tasting.
Moses’ guitar playing is also impressive. There are a few instrumentals on the album and they’re all pretty captivating. He covers the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There” instrumentally and manages to nail each and every vocal part with his guitar. It’s a thing of beauty. He jams out a little more on his cover of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” the “Reach Out” B side, but it’s still an interesting take on a familiar tune. And it makes me wonder why we, as a culture, stopped making instrumental covers of popular pop songs. Doesn’t “Old Town Road” deserve to be a guitar-driven instrumental?
Straight talk. Moses is the real deal. His voice isn’t sweet, but he’s trying to sing sweetly. The effort and consideration he instills in the vocal performances are what make them so riveting. “She’s a Bad Girl” features a funky baseline and guitar that’s practically scratching its way out of the song. There are horns and background vocals, but the emotional center of the song is Moses earnest vocals. You can almost imagine him in the studio, eyes closed and entirely focused on putting everything he has into that vocal performance.
His voice even shines on a slower track like “If Loving You Is a Crime (I’ll Always Be Guilty).” Here the background music is really just white noise behind a passionate vocal performance. It’s so pure and unvarnished, it’s touchingly beautiful, even though if Moses were somehow able to appear on a reality talent show, he probably wouldn’t even make it out of the first episode.
The confession. As regular readers have probably noticed, this is the space where I typically default to guilt. And I do feel bad about this album. Not so much about missing it most recently, but more about the unfairness of it all, and how Moses just made that one album before giving up. Apparently after Time and Place, his debut, didn’t do well, he retreated to Atlanta where he played clubs, married and remarried, developed a drug problem, and eventually died in 1991 at 56. It’s sad but also unfair. Talent is everything but it’s also nothing.
Closing arguments. Obviously, I’m buying Time and Place. Because as good as this is, I want to hear more. Also, not to make this about myself, but reading about Moses, I’m glad I’m going back for good music. An obscene amount of music comes out every year. No one can hear it all. No one can buy it all. And the good music doesn’t necessarily rise to the top of the heap. So amplifying the less-heard is important, even too long after its release. I wish I could have appreciated Moses, and his lunar pull, while he was alive.
So much amazing music comes out all of the time. I review what I can as quickly as I can, working my physical and digital piles as efficiently as possible, but things fall between the cracks. Rather than giving up on things that are a little past their prime, contemporary-review-standards-wise, I’m going back for the overflow that deserves to be heard — even if it’s a little late.