29 Left Down
Lee Penn Sky & the Oliphants
"Combining plain-spoken, compassionate lyrics with soothing folk melodies and gently funky rhythms, the album mixes reflections on social injustices and life's disappointments with an appreciation of family, friends and the Idaho landscape."- Boise Weekly
Lee Penn Sky writes songs that span the Americana range, and are rooted in his Michigan childhood and the high-plains desert of Idaho, where he now resides. He has an affinity for Texan songwriters like Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, and the late great Townes Van Zandt. While these artists inform Lee Penn Sky’s music, he doesn’t emulate his heroes. Though poetic Lee's songwriting is deceptively simple, but the unadorned nature of his writing makes the songs all the more powerful - he has a way of cutting to the heart of a matter and is often compared to Colin Hay. As a solo artist he has a unique, direct, almost lazy and often melancholic style of conveying his lyrics which lends to a very intimate feel.
As front man for his band The Oliphants Lee is explosive, spontaneous and uninhibited. Lee Penn Sky, on guitar and harmonica brings unbridled energetic boot stompin' happiness, easy listening grooves, contagious humble-pie vocals and heartbreaking lyrics. Troy "Rosie" Ferguson on the Standup Bass with pulsating smooth rhythms mixed with classical jazz abandon. Jake “Gizmo” Englehorn brings a Worldbeat percussive polyrhythmic center to it all. To top it off is Heather Roberts who’s fiddling is so unbelievable you’ll wonder why her violin does not burst into flame. This eclectic group brings home what playing music is all about...The Oliphants – Keeping it Trunky-they are a fully acoustic band that brings to the stage the energy and dynamics of an electric band.
Lee Penn Sky and the Oliphants new cd called “29 left down” was released in March of 2015. Several of Lee’s songs from his debut album “Prelude to Hindsight” have been played on folk and alt-country radio shows throughout the United States and in Europe. His song "The Trees” was included on In Our Town: Songs for BOISE 150.
Lee Penn Sky as a solo act and with the Oliphants has played at many festivals, fairs and showcases including being a 2 time songwriting finalist in the Susanne Millsaps performing songwriter showcase, playing at the Snowbird Mountain Music Festival, playing three years at the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase, Played twice at the Tucson Folk Festival, the Spokane Fall Folk Festival, the Salt Lake Folk and Bluegrass Festival, Twice at the The Treefort Music Festival and the Yellow Pine Harmonica and Music Festival as well as been been booked for the L.A. Americana Music Festival. They have played a number of great concert series such as the Music from Stanley Series and Boise’s Alive after 5 series. Lee has been feature on several television shows such as the Park City TV show Soundtracks and Boise Song Talk and local Boise NBC News programs
An interview of Lee Penn Sky and review of 29 Left Down from Boise Weekly 4/15/15 by reviewer Ben Schultz :
Lee Penchansky, aka Lee Penn Sky, took the title of his self-released March 2015 album, 29 Left Down, from "The Big Branch Mine," his song about the 2010 Pike River Mine disaster in which 29 men were killed. He sees the incident as both a tragedy and an outrage. (Ben misquotes Lee here, Lee's song refers to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia 4/5/10, but hey all mining disasters are equally tragic.)
"You have this event that is horrible and so tragically sad and indicting," Penn Sky said. "It's so preventable. And there's that whole circus around that thing—'We know four are dead, but we know that 25 are alive in the safe room.'" This whole heartbreaking trip that we all took collectively through the media to find out, 'Actually, we've walked by these dead bodies several different times.' ... This place was in such disrepair that they didn't even see the bodies."
29 Left Down (produced by Audio Lab Studios' Steve Fulton) isn't about wallowing in anger or despair, though. Local artist Heather Bauer's album cover art—an encaustic image of flowers growing from skulls buried in the ground—suggests something more complex.
"That's a horrible event and we need to be reminded of it," Penn Sky said, "but it's not the only thing to life, and it's not the only thing about this album. This album is this rise and fall—there's good and bad. So these skulls are really seeds for these flowers. It's really kind of this cycle. That's the concept of the album and the concept of the cover of the album."
The other 12 songs on 29 Left Down flesh out Penn Sky's concept. Combining plain-spoken, compassionate lyrics with soothing folk melodies and gently funky rhythms, the album mixes reflections on social injustices and life's disappointments with an appreciation of family, friends and the Idaho landscape. Penn Sky released the album on March 29 during his Treefort Music Fest set with his band, The Oliphants.
Penn Sky knows from personal experience about good coming from bad. Originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., the singer-songwriter had played in a band while in college. However, he didn't start singing, writing songs or playing guitar seriously until after he was almost killed in a 2001 accident..
At the time, Penn Sky was working for a wilderness treatment program for children in Gooding, Idaho.
"I stopped to help somebody on the highway going over this huge pass," he remembered. "They were rolled over. I was responding to them, and a car came off and drilled me. I had to be Life Flight-ed, and I had eight surgeries on my leg. Long story short, I could no longer do those physical [tasks] that I moved up here to do."
As part of his recovery, Penn Sky began wandering alone through the Idaho desert. He also channeled his energy into making music.
"That's when I wrote my first album [Prelude to Hindsight (Parker's Records, 2005)]. All the songs on my first album were from that time period of recovery and loneliness and starting to feel some of that association with the land," Penn Sky said. He began performing locally and playing such festivals as Denver's Underground Music Showcase and Spokane, Wash.'s Fall Folk Festival, but he didn't release a follow-up to Prelude until this year. The 10-year gap between albums was due to a lack of money as well as focusing on raising his two children.
"That kind of derails you," Penn Sky said of parenting, "but it also sets you up for some beautiful and wonderful things that you would not have [expected]."
Penn Sky values the wonderful and unexpected in music as well. He credited the other members of the Oliphants, bassist Troy Ferguson and percussionist Jake Englehorn, with bringing out new elements in his songs.
"When we play live, we kind of become a jam band," he said. "Because I want that stuff to come out. I want everybody to have that expression. ... We're listening to each other, we're letting it go places."
Steve Fulton helped take the 29 Left Down material to new places in the studio. He pushed Penn Sky to add, remove and rewrite different parts of various songs.
"He actually did challenge me to change quite a few things," which, Penn Sky said, he was uncomfortable with. When Fulton told him he needed to rewrite the chorus of a song, Penn Sky said, "What do you mean? This is the song. What're you talking about?" But he realized he had to "go through that process and see what's there."
Listeners can see and hear the result of that process soon. Penn Sky and the Oliphants plan to play events like the Yellow Pine Music and Harmonica Festival in the next few months, and he also hopes to have a more organized release show for the new album.
Whatever response to the new album he encounters, it probably won't faze Penn Sky.
"After literally almost dying, what're they gonna do?" he said, recalling his start as a singer. "What if they say, 'I don't like your voice?' What's that gonna do, kill me?"
The Trees 4:040:00/4:04
The Center of Town 4:090:00/4:09
Worse Things 5:080:00/5:08
The Rust Belt 4:240:00/4:24
A Song About a Song 2:580:00/2:58
Buffalo Canyon 4:230:00/4:23
Good Old Pat 4:050:00/4:05
How Jack Felt 3:530:00/3:53
The Big Branch Mine 5:110:00/5:11