Release Date: Jan 25, 2011
Record label: Blue Note
Genre(s): Folk, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
Amos Lee is a 32-year-old soul man with a voice that blends James Taylor and Bill Withers. Lee's singing is both seductive and a little anonymous, his persona often dissolving into a tasteful mix of predictable lyrics and buttery timbres. For that reason, like his labelmate Norah Jones, Lee is a great foil, and the standouts on his chart-topping fourth album — cut with cowboy-mystic indie rockers Calexico providing moody backup — are the cameo tracks.
Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Amos Lee has applied what he’s learned from touring with grizzled veterans Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and Elvis Costello on his fourth LP. Lee and producer Joey Burns (Calexico) aren’t afraid to take chances and stretch the limits of Lee’s folky R&B sound. The tone of the album is consistently mellow but not necessarily boring.
Recorded in Arizona with Calexico's Joey Burns producing, Amos Lee's fourth studio album, 2011's Mission Bell, finds the singer/songwriter in a thoughtful mood and once again wrapping his soulful folk numbers in country, blues, and soft rock. A ruminative, lazy summer day of an album, Mission Bell is not dissimilar to Lee's last effort, 2008's Last Days at the Lodge, but lacks the more contemporary R&B tracks that made Last Days a bit of a departure from Lee's more granola leanings. Here listeners get the introspective leadoff track "El Camino" and the airy Steve Winwood-sounding ballad "Violin.
Amos Lee has everything going for him—a soothing, soulful voice, a penchant for tasteful jazz/folk arrangements, and an ear for cathartic tunes about redemption and solace in a confusing world. He’s written a number of quietly beautiful songs (“Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight,” “Arms of a Woman,” Supply and Demand”) in his six-year career—enough for one hell of a Starbucks mood piece. Lee’s problem is endurance: For all of his tear-jerking, lighter-waiving highlights, he’s never managed to compile a collection of consistently gripping songs.
Over the course of his first three albums, Amos Lee has developed a reputation as a powerful soul vocalist who happened to adopt the sensibilities and style of a ‘70s-era pop singer-songwriter. That style hasn’t always allowed him to capitalize on his extraordinary voice, and his latest, Mission Bell, suffers from the same dedication to mellow, Starbucks-ready music. Working with Calexico’s Joey Burns as his producer, Lee ventures into a more Americana-leaning sound on Mission Bell, and it’s only a slight departure from his dogged Mellow Show shtick.
Mission Bell is the fourth collection from Amos Lee, a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who can boast a charming voice and an easy-n-mellow style. When he debuted in 2005 on Blue Note Records with an eponymous disc featuring, essentially, Norah Jones’s band, listeners may have expected music with jazzy lilt as well as a coffeehouse-ready acoustic sound. But Lee’s strengths are, in fact, way more mainstream than those of Jones.
Review Summary: Amos Lee's Mission Fell ShortAt his best, Amos Lee perfects a blend of an irreproducible voice, full of robust soul, effortless sensuality and a tinge of folk. Think: Tracy Chapman meets Marvin Gaye with a little Sam Beam (of Iron and Wine) thrown in. Unfortunately, on his new album Mission Bell, Amos Lee is often not at his best, and on most of the songs here he focuses on only one or two of the traits that make up his triforce of greatness, making for a rather predictable snooze.
Singer/songwriter Amos Lee employs Calexico's Joey Burns as producer for his fourth album, along with guest singers Lucinda Williams, Iron & Wine's Sam Beam and Willie Nelson. But even Nelson, who brings heart and soul to pretty much anything he does, cannot make this record interesting. Lee's vibe is that blend of folk and R&B favoured by guys who sing Jason Mraz at their American Idol audition.
On much of Philadelphia singer-songwriter Amos Lee’s past efforts, his soulful voice and understated guitar playing were obscured underneath layers of poppy instrumentation and high-polish production, making for songs pleasing to the ear, but not indicative of his potential as a musician. Recorded at Calexico’s studio in Arizona, Lee’s fourth record, Mission Bell, begins to make up for the grit Lee’s earlier records lacked. Lee has a velvety-smooth, honey-infused voice that could be at home on a number of Top 40 tracks.