Artist: Denny Lile
Album: Hear the Bang: The Life and Music of Denny Lile
Label: Big Legal Mess
Release Date: 10/16/2015
Denny Lile’s story is so tortuously tragic that it demands curiosity about the brilliant music he made at the young age of 22. Lile was a regional legend from Louisville, Kentucky who penned a top ten hit for Waylon Jennings- “Fallin’ Out”- and was seemingly on the way to a promising career, until it was curtailed at almost every key juncture by his alcoholism. The DVD in this CD/DVD set is a revealing documentary of Lile’s unfortunate and all too short music career. The film was made by Lile’s nephew, Jer, a custom guitar and amplifier maker who was working with Jimbo Mathus, one of Bruce Watson’s artists. From there Jer connected with Watson, who has made a career of releasing music from obscure artists from the South, and they made plans to re-issue Lile’s solo album recorded in 1972, long out-of-print.
Watson reveals that his first reaction to the album was, “… My God, I can’t believe nobody’s heard this. This guy’s a great singer/songwriter who never got his due. I’ve got to put this out!” As the project evolved, Jer Lile was determined to put the documentary together as well. He describes the process of the making the film, “I’ve talked with all these people to get a better sense of who he was, and that kind of makes the sense of loss a little more intense, more defined… I can’t tell you how often I’ve cried during this process.” Watch this documentary, please!
When you start learning about Lile’s story, there is a consistent reaction to his music from those interviewed: “It is so brilliant that it will startle you.” On my first listen, I figured that perhaps this was all just hype. Instead, I found myself sharing a similar reaction. The melodies and lyrics are so well constructed, I wasn’t surprised to later learn that Lile was a perfectionist, who often spent a year or longer tweaking his songs. The music was recorded during a time when artists like Neil Young and Loggins and Messina were releasing melodic albums that blended acoustic and electric instruments, fusing country with rock.
Lile’s songs, often melancholy, and usually dealing with love and loss, evoke a bittersweet feeling. His smooth voice and deft guitar picking draw you in easily, yet, as you listen to his lyrics, you can’t help but marvel at his natural talent. “Hear the Bang,” the album’s opening track, is haunting and indelibly memorable, but there are some up tempo tunes on here as well, such as “Looks Like the Feeling’s Slowly Fading,” “Oh, Darlin’” and “Cause You’re Mine.” Unlike much of the music from this era, Lile’s seems to hold up remarkably well. Thanks to Bruce Watson and Jer Lile for pulling together Denny Lile’s intriguing music and story. Yes, the music industry can be cruel, but brilliance can emerge as it does here, even if it takes more than four decades to be recognized.
– Jim Hynes