February 2, 2011

Test Spin: Amos Lee

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Amos Lee is a prime example of quiet success, meaning that you’ve likely heard his music even if you aren’t familiar with him by name. Since he burst onto the scene in 2005, Lee’s tracks have been featured in umpteen television series, including Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters, ER, Army Wives and House. He’s performed at Abbey Road, Austin City Limits and Change Rocks: A Concert for Barack Obama. And, he steadily increased his album sales with each new record he released.On his latest LP, Mission Bell, Lee is joined by a plethora of guests. Joey Burns of Calexico produced the album, which features vocal contributions from Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Priscila Ahn, Pieta Brown, James Gadson, and Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. For the most part, Burns and Lee use the album’s guests to provide sonic texturing. Ahn and Brown offer enriching background vocals on “Stay With Me” and “Out of the Cold,” respectively. Likewise, Beam goes relatively unnoticed on “Violin,” the slow burning scene-stealer of Mission Bell. The Nelson and Williams tracks, however, are legitimate duets. Consequently, they are also the album’s two worst offerings. Willie Nelson can’t really sing anymore, a fact that is painfully evident when he is placed against someone like Lee on “El Camino Reprise.” Williams is similarly outmatched on “Clear Blue Eyes,” singing a part that frequent Lee collaborator Norah Jones would have been better suited for. The rest of the album plays like a mixed bag, both qualitatively and stylistically. The country infused “Cup of Sorrow,” proves Lee can tackle that genre with positive results. Understated soul ballad, “El Camino” is also quite good. But, the Lionel Richie inspired “Hello Again” sounds dated, and gospel rocker “Jesus” falls flat despite its James Gadson assist.-Wesely Ambrecht

Original Author: Wesley Ambrecht