It all starts with a song, but for Julie Lee’s seventh album out March 6, it actually started with babies - not her babies, but the offspring of some of Nashville’s best musicians. As a longtime respected singer/songwriter, and Nashville being Nashville, Lee’s occasional side job of babysitting was for the likes of Kenny Vaughan and Mike Bub. They continually offered their services if she would get out and play again, and thus The Baby Daddies were born at a live show in 2010, inspiring her to get back into the studio last year.
The writer, whose songs have been recorded by Krauss, Pam Tillis, Block, Mark Erelli and more, has been a visual artist longer than she’s been a tunesmith. Those two lives have remained mostly separate until a mysterious scrap of paper she used in one of her pieces inspired the beginnings of a song.
“It’s been a long time coming, the marriage of these different sides of my life,” shares Lee. “I kept asking myself, ‘How do I get from all this babysitting and making art back to music?’ But as fate would have it...the babysitting brought about the incarnation of "The Baby-Daddies,” and the art had already begun to inspire some of the songs.”
That mysterious scrap of paper simply said, “Does the road wind uphill all the way?” It eventually worked its way into her collage-art, but it also became the first track on the album. “I gather scraps and bits from a variety of sources, I couldn't remember where I got it and for years I believed it was an old hymn. Every time I saw it, I was frustrated, wanting to turn it into a song myself. Years passed and I discovered it was not a song - but the first line of a poem by Christina Rosetti called 'Uphill.' Written in 1885, the poem eerily expressed how I was feeling at the time, while touring for the Stillhouse Road CD and cutting thru mountain roads late at night alone. So I put it on my blackboard in my kitchen and in a matter of weeks I had put it to music."
Though Lee has toured extensively as a solo artist in Europe and in the States (also opening for artists from Over The Rhine to Krauss), had a publishing deal, a record deal, released six albums, and has made a humble living as a songwriter -- it can sometimes feel as if ...the road does wind uphill all the way.
Because of the lessons that come from such a journey, Julie Lee & The Baby-Daddies is quite a ride. With eight originals and two covers, each song is a snapshot of various landscapes within Americana, deftly painted by some of the best in the genre. There’s the vintage country of “Time Enough,” telling the story of a young girl anxious to experience everything in life – then the playful jazz influenced homage to sibling envy with Carly Simon’s “Older Sister.” And the intimate promise of "Unto The Hills,” where Alison Krauss and Tim O'Brien join Lee on every mountain gospel refrain.