Lee — who performs at Oakland’s Fox Theater Wednesday night — arrived at a logical conclusion as he considered the recently issued follow-up, “Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song” — why fix something that isn’t broken? So he’s been returning to the Bay Area ever since.
Lee has a beard-and-work-shirted “everyman” look that doesn’t attract much attention in The City. He blends in so well with high-tech, faux-lumberjack hipsters that he can converse with strangers in virtual anonymity.
Onstage, it’s his warm, honeyed drawl that holds sway, and the laconic tales he tells such as parables “Scamps” and “Johnson Blvd.” and the bluesy “The Man Who Wants You,” all on the recent album.
“Overall, I live a pretty under-the-radar kind of life,” says Lee. “I don’t really put myself out there in any real way, even though my manager would probably like me to be more visible.”
Lee no longer chaperones a pooch. His friend’s ex-wife took the dog in the divorce.
“And that dog was crazy,” he says. “If I took him off leash at the dog park, it took me an hour to get him back. Plus, he bit me a bunch of times.”
Lately, he’s pinballed all over, playing one of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles in upstate New York before the drummer passed (leading to the Patty Griffin-assisted tearjerker “Mountains of Sorrow”). His new album was created in a converted church in Nashville, Tenn., with producer Jay Joyce and guests Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas and Mickey Raphael — but he keeps returning here.
Locally, Lee loves extracting some café patron’s colorful life story without revealing his own.
“I’m very interested in people, interested in what they’re going through in their lives,” he says. “I don’t really want to make it about me. For instance, whenever I talk to someone who’s a pilot or a flight attendant, I’m fascinated because I spend so much time flying.”
He never quotes folks directly in songs. “But there’s tons of everybody I’ve ever met in my music,” he adds.
Lee also works for Musicians On Call, playing bedside for health care facility patients who are often familiar with him.
“But I’m not even close to being a household name, and I like that,” he says. “I love being able to walk anywhere, unnoticed. I enjoy being invisible and just observing things in their natural state.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $39.50 to $45
Contact: (510) 302-2250, www.ticketmaster.com