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Amos Lee (2005)

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Amos Lee

With a dusky soul voice and a knack for literate, thoughtful lyrics, singer/songwriter Amos Lee is a throwback to a more organic-sounding pop time period. Calling to mind a mix of Bill Withers, Arthur Lee, and James Taylor, Lee croons through his mellow eponymous debut with a singular sense of his time and place that adds weight to his already heartfelt songs. Much like Taylor's Sweet Baby James and Withers' Still Bill, Amos Lee is an album about an artist's life and loves in a world that often seems at odds with his desires. On "Arms of a Woman," Lee sings "I am at ease in the arms of a woman/Although now most of my days are spent alone/A thousand miles from the place I was born/But when she wakes she takes me back home." Similarly, the darkly evocative "Black River" has Lee in a gospel mood, drawing comparisons between a swift-moving river, God, and whiskey, while the brisk country-rock-inflected "Love in the Lies" finds him proclaiming that "The world ain't no harder than it's ever been/Lookin' for love in the lies of a lonely friend." For all intents and purposes with Lee, Blue Note has found the male Norah Jones. In fact, Jones guests here and, interestingly, on "Colors," Lee sings about getting "lost in the circus" -- one wonders if Blue Note hopes that Jones' "house of fun" is close by. Joining in are other members of the Blue Note extended family, including Jones' longtime bassist Lee Alexander, guitarist Kevin Breit, and others. The result is an album not dissimilar to Jones' multiple Grammy-winning Come Away With Me, as Wurlitzer and Hammond organs pipe softly next to acoustic guitars, allowing Lee to glide on top of a wave of tasteful coffeehouse soul. While the comparison is mostly positive, it does pose one rub in that even Come Away With Me, while unfailingly intimate and classy, was somewhat calculated to be beautifully crafted, deeply emotional wallpaper, and Amos Lee holds to that template. Which basically means that, despite Lee's stellar melodic abilities, the arrangements are often too low-key for their own good. That said, Lee has a phenomenal voice matched by a journeyman's sense of songcraft that is just too good to go unnoticed. ~ Matt Collar