Amos Lee represents Blue Note's effort to capitalize on the success of Norah Jones by marketing a male version of the genre-stretching pianist/vocalist.
There. I said it and got that out of the way.
That is just so much business hooey, but it needed to be said anyway. Amos Lee is a talented singer, guitarist, and songwriter. The latter is perhaps his best talent. Damn few songwriters make music today. Bob Dylan and John Prine come to mind.
It has been common to compare Lee to James Taylor and Bill Withers, and they are fairly similar. However, that may be too restrictive for an artist who basically represents the renaissance of a form championed by Jackson Brown, Lowell George, Warren Zevon, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Jeff and Tim Buckley, and Tim Hardinthat is, the singer-songwriter, smart, insightful, and tuneful.
Lee's eponymous release is a pleasant, if not sleepy release with a collection of songs centering on an urban existence challenged by an ever-accelerating culture. Lee attempts to slow things down and make them pensive. Shooting through this folk/jazz axis is a heavy dose of R&B. That would be Philly soul, the base for Amos Lee. This music is not cluttered with instrumentation. Primarily acoustic, Amos Lee's vision is carried by a sparse but intelligent carpet of sound, driven by his informed guitar playing, which is a bit reminiscent of James Taylor and Jackson Brown.
Illustrative of this is Lee's opening piece, "Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight. Yes, that's Norah Jones's trademark tinkling in the background and, save for Larry Gold's cello, that's about it. Lee's theme is one of caution and groundedness in the light of notoriety:
Ah, some people they claim if you get enough fame You live over the rainbow Over the rainbow But the people on the street, Out on buses or on feet We all got the same blood flow...
Reading the lyrics to "Seen it All Before made me cringe... one more song about being left behind. But Lee's guitar and Devin Greenwood's tasteful B3 make a heady folk/R&B mix that is infectious (as is the funky "Give it Up ). Ditto for the country gospel of "Arms of a Woman. Here Lee employs a time-honored chord progression supported by Adam Levy's electric guitar and Greenwood's Wurlitzer. You get the idea.
The song with commercial success written all over it is "Love in the Lies, a hook-filled lament that might remind you of Norah Jones' "Toes. These are songs that remain in your head. And that is good... for Amos Lee and Blue Note.
Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight; Seen It All Before; Arms Of A Woman; Give It Up; Dreamin'; Soul Suckers; Colors; Bottom Of The Barrel; Black River; Love In The Lies; All My Friends.
Amos Lee--vocals, guitar; Lee Alexander--Bass; Fred Berman--Drums, Vocals (bckgr); Zara Bod