NASHVILLE, TN -- Nate Lee is an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award-winning instrumentalist and renowned teacher of private lessons and music camps. The overlapping landscapes of folk, bluegrass, old-time, and new acoustic music offer a wide field to hoe and singer/mandolinist Nate ably covers every bit of that ground. Tuneful lopes, the muscular bounce of ‘grass, the sparkling charm of Grisman-Rice inspired dawg music, and more are all in his comfort zone and he moves between them with uncommon ease. Nate is known as the kind of musician who is able to put his own stamp on whatever he plays and his forthcoming album, Wings of a Jetliner, brings that home and is set for independent release June 12 on his own Adverb Records.
Nate is known as a member of award-winning bluegrass group, the Becky Buller Band, which he joined in 2017 and he quickly became a fan-favorite. For this project Nate assembled an inspired collection of iconic players, modern masters, and rising stars—including his bandmates from Becky Buller Band.
Two-time GRAMMY winning songwriter, eight-time International Bluegrass Music Association award winner, and leader of the band that bears her name, Becky Buller, contributes her fiddle and vocal chops to four of the songs on Wings of a Jetliner. She says, “Nate is an incredible musician and human being. This project really shows the world the depth of his abilities, both as a picker and a singer. I’m so honored to be along for the fun!”
A Texas native residing in Nashville, Nate first came on the bluegrass scene playing fiddle with legendary banjo player and teacher, Alan Munde, in the Alan Munde Gazette, and later on fiddle and mandolin with the Jim Hurst Trio. He has also played with The Hard Road Trio and continues to record with the band. When he’s not playing, Nate is heavily involved in the work of the International Bluegrass Music Association, helping bluegrass musicians and the bluegrass community to develop and grow as the chair of the Planning Committee for the IBMA’s Leadership Bluegrass program.
Wings of a Jetliner finds Nate stepping forward as a leader in a new way, setting a higher bar for himself and bringing his singing and playing to the forefront. Buzzing with inspiration after taking in a performance by Soggy Bottom Boy, Dan Tymiski, at Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh, NC, in 2019, Nate returned to his hotel room to begin planning a new album that same night, and he didn’t look back. The seed of Wings of a Jetliner had been planted and was already beginning to grow. He set to work from that moment shaping his vision and making plans.
Renaissance man, Professor Dan Boner, came on board early as producer and engineer. When not playing alongside Nate in the Becky Buller Band, Dan directs the bluegrass, old-time, and country music program at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in Johnson City, Tennessee. In the audio world, Dan is known for his hand-built high-end studio gear and exacting repair of vintage equipment. Nate credits Dan with fostering an environment and process that pulled the best from every musician involved in creating Wings of a Jetliner, a freedom that is apparent on each song, primarily tracked at the ETSU Recording Lab.
Professor Dan says, “Wings of a Jetliner mirrors all that I have observed in Nate’s persona. He is an objective seeker, lifelong learner, patient teacher, and a quick-witted responder to happenstances. He is as nimble on the fretboard as he is at racking up airline points. His smooth bow arm reflects his own pursuit of balance. Life is navigated best with a calculated efficiency of motion, energy, and time.”
“Great soundscapes resonate with listeners in the same internal places as the sound-makers,” Dan continues. “Nate so thoughtfully recruited this group of like-minded artists to create a most fascinating listening experience. I am proud that he called on me to capture these sounds and help share them with you.”
The musicians that joined Nate for this project would make anyone’s all-star ballot and many annual awards lists. Appearing on all but two tracks, 2018 International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year and host of “Derailed” on SiriusXM, Ned Luberecki pulls double-duty on the five-string banjo in Nate’s studio band and as a member of the Becky Buller Band. Joining Nate and Ned in the studio band on guitar is original member of the Tony Rice Unit and flatpicking legend, Wyatt Rice, and icon of acoustic music and sideman to the stars, living-legend Todd Phillips plays upright bass. Rounding out the studio band, rising star Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, founding member of IBMA Momentum award-winners Mile Twelve, handles fiddle duties on eight tracks.
Guesting in, we find bass monster Daniel “The Hulk” Hardin laying down the groove on a few and Dan Boner steps out from behind the glass to provide guitar and harmony vocals as well as fiddle on a track. Bluegrass singer and songwriter Daniel Salyer joins in on harmony vocals on a few songs. Three songs call on the talents of Buller Band members (Buller, Boner, Luberecki, and Hardin) exclusively: “Tobacco, “All Along,” and “Comealong Brown Dog.”
2016 winner of the prestigious Rockygrass mandolin competition (and founding member of the genre-bending group Circus No. 9), Thomas Cassell, serves as Nate’s duet partner on the Grisman-inspired two-mandolin feature “Serenity” a song (named for the spaceship in the sci-fi television show Firefly) which grew from a harmonic reworking of a traditional Irish tune that pays tribute in melody to the great David “Dawg” Grisman, mandolin innovator and father of the dawg style of jazz-bluegrass fusion. The whole band shines here, especially Nate, who plays both fiddle and mandolin.
Nate’s wide-ranging taste, not to mention his deep well of musical tools, give a lot for fans to enjoy in the striking variety of instrumentals on Wings of a Jetliner. Nate composed all five instrumental numbers on Wings of a Jetliner, and the quality of instrument and operator shine on each one. Mandolin players in particular will find much to love. Nate takes full advantage of his axe’s tone, monster chop, and uncommon sustain— which he says has had a significant impact on his playing—to great effect.
The lead-off track, “Wonderbat,” is a bluegrass ripper named after his trusty mandolin, which Nate, a die-hard fan of The Simpsons, named after the baseball bat that cartoon dad Homer Simpson used in an episode. It’s a showcase for the instrument’s muscle, “My Pava P5 mandolin, ‘Wonderbat,’ feels to me like Homer’s bat. I can do things with it that are better than when I play other mandolins. This song really shows the powerful side of the ‘Wonderbat,’ and it’s really fun to play.”
Nate updated a tune he’d written while in college to create “Quick Select,” a light-hearted piece with a playful bounce that was inspired by his favorite video game, Ratchet & Clank. Here, compositional approaches from jazz meet the feel of a traditional fiddle tune. It’s easy to listen to, but offers rich complexity for listeners who want to dig deeper.
Nate is joined by Buller and Hardin on “Comealong Brown Dog,” an instrumental lope inspired by Nate’s dog, Cashew. The “three T’s” of taste, timing, and tone are masterfully executed on this one, and the trio conjures the dreaminess of a late-summer afternoon in a way that is patient, lovely, and spare.
“Rook Roller” is a spiraling bluegrass number that grew out of a riff Nate came up with during a practice session on the couch. The name comes from Nate’s favorite finishing move in chess and it’s traditional flavor belies the twists and turns of a decidedly modern tune. Parking lot jammers will be wrapping their minds and fingers around this tune for years to come.
Listeners will find equally satisfying variety in the carefully chosen vocal numbers, penned by an eclectic assortment of accomplished songwriters, on Wings of a Jetliner Hard-driving bluegrass songs, western swing, and more, are all here to delight. The same taste and mastery that make each of Nate’s tunes stand out make every song shimmer on it’s own.
A tale of resistance, at great personal risk, in the face of exploitation, “Tobacco,” written by Dan Salyer, draws from the history of western Kentucky and Tennessee to tell a story about the Black Patch Tobacco Wars of the early 20th century. The Becky Buller Band supports Nate on this track with drive and power to spare.
The darkly tender, “Somewhere Far Away,” written by Nick Woods and Bradford Lee Folk, has a special resonance for Nate. “This has been one of my favorite songs in the world since I first heard Brad Folk sing it. The title of the album, Wings of a Jetliner, comes from a line in this song, ‘I like the lights on the wings of a jetliner as they blink out, and they cut through the cloud cover.’ I really love to watch planes, especially takeoff and final approach before landing. My back porch is a front row seat for final approach at the BNA airport. I like to sit out there and watch, and sometimes I wish I was in the plane instead of watching from the ground.” With it’s not-quite happy melody and deeply sad lyrics, “Somewhere” showcases Nate’s ability to tell a nuanced story. Though it may be unfamiliar to many, it has the feeling of a song you’ve heard before.
Some listeners will recognize “All Along” from 90’s rock icons, The Offspring, delivered here with all the raw urgency of the original, by Nate and the rest of the Becky Buller Band. “I must have listened to their album Conspiracy of One hundreds of times and always thought their songs would make great bluegrass songs. The drive they created between the bass/kick drum and the snare is just like a fast bluegrass groove. ‘All Along’ has always been one of my favorites; the lyrics are pretty lonesome and look like a bluegrass song on paper.”
Nate’s clawhammer banjo (which was built by his dad with a custom Lord of the Rings inspired inlay on the peghead and is called “The Blue Dragon”) propels the atmospheric canter of “Miner’s Grave,” written by Ashleigh Caudill. This dark and rich tale of a moonshiner’s tragic life drips with mood, and holds a bit of sonic experimentation for the sharp-eared to listen for.
“The More I Pour,” penned by Tim Stafford and Mark Bumgarner, began life as a honky-tonk song, but Nate pulled from his experience and transformed it into a dancehall-ready charmer. “In days past, I was a fiddler in a Western Swing band and I’ve always loved triple fiddle and swing chord changes. One of my favorite parts of the recording is Wyatt Rice’s solo. It’s unmistakably Rice, and just what I was hoping for!” The vocal and fiddle harmonies gleam on this cut, and were as much a joy to make as they are to listen to. “The triple fiddles were really fun to arrange and record. Dan Boner is a master arranger, and he developed the fiddle arrangements with input from Bronwyn and myself.”
Written by Bill Caswell and made famous by bluegrass legends, Country Gazette, which included the equally legendary Alan Munde on banjo, “Sweet Allis Chalmers” is a favorite song of Nate’s, and was the first thing recorded for Wings of a Jetliner. Nate speaks to the song’s personal significance, “Coming up in bluegrass, my first professional gig was with the Alan Munde Gazette. During my second semester in the South Plains College Bluegrass & Country Music program, someone left the band, and I was in the right place at the right time. They asked me to join and I was ecstatic. The Alan Munde Gazette covered a lot of Country Gazette material, and although we never covered this song I discovered it through my exploration of the Country Gazette catalog. The banjo part of Sweet Allis Chalmers really makes the song, and Ned Luberecki’s version of Alan Munde’s banjo arrangement is excellent.”
“Love Medicine” closes out Wings of a Jetliner on a contemporary-feeling note. The song was written by Chris Sanders, Nate’s former bandmate in the Hard Road Trio, and looks at addiction in tough-but-tender terms. The influence of the Red Hot Chili Peppers peeks through consistently and gives the song a uniqueness. The arrangement gives each player a closing opportunity to shine, and they all do.
Nate Lee’s Wings of a Jetliner is an album of significant range and each track breathes with the kind of life that can usually be found on only a few cuts on any one record. Here, all twelve numbers sparkle in a unique way. This release is a new high-water mark for Nate. It’s sure to make a lot of new fans for a fast-rising talent.
Ned Luberecki says, “Wings of a Jetliner is your first class window seat on an exciting musical journey with Captain Nate Lee at the helm. So put on your noise cancelling headphones, recline the seat and enjoy your flight! Earn double miles if you buy one for a friend!”