Amos Lee has been billed as "The male Norah Jones" and from a marketing perspective, it's fair enough. Not only is he also with the Blue Note record company, he's also a similar personality in the music world. He's soul, but accessible across the board. His songs are easy to grasp, but not brainless like most pop hits. He's gorgeous-looking, but is not merely trading on his looks. He has a perfect, clean but pliable voice that can milk emotion from simple songs. He's likely to sell many records but still retain his musical integrity. In these ways, he's comparable to Alicia Keys, Norah Jones and traditional soulsters like Al Green.
But comparisons like this are a mistake this time round. Unlike Katie Melua and others whose careers could be said to spin off from Norah Jones' popularisation of jazzy soul, Amos Lee is a real singer-songwriter, with his own style.
From the relaxed, rhythmic, lonely storytelling soul of the opening track "Keep it loose, keep it tight" "Well I walked over the bridge into the city where I live / And I saw my old landlord", he earns your trust and arouses your curiosity. How does he make a line like "every dollar got a deed" glow like that?
He's not some guileless, sloppy innocent. The strength of Amos's debut is its sweetness, but it's no old tooth rot. The effortless tenderness of"Arms of a woman" is doubled by the complicated truths that lie hidden in the lyric "...a thousand miles from the place I was born / but when she wakes me she takes me back home".
There's not one bad or jarring track on the album. Which makes it easy to dismiss as background music. Even Rolling Stone made the mistake of doing this, rating Lee's debut half a star lower than Percy Sledge's latest, nice but unnecessary (and not even self written) new album.
In fact, Lee's skill can deceive you into thinking what he does is easy. But his music is only so easy to listen to because he's so damn good. In reality, he pulls off some of the more difficult pop music moves. He sweetens suicide in "Black River", in Southern American spiritual form. Then he lifts the mood subtly with "Love in the Lies" a quietly turbulent sort of edge city ballad, gliding through key changes so naturally that he makes even pop modulation maestros Steely Dan sound like flailing art rockers.
Comparisons are understandable, because there's something so right about this music that you feel comfortable with it immediately. It's written music and lyrics as one, and is polished, like those smooth stones you find on the beach or in river beds. So you assume you must know it from somewhere.
You don't, though. (Take a listen to the clips for a quick taste.)
- Jean Barker
What other critics said:
Twenty-seven-year-old singer-songwriter Amos Lee's civilized folk soul -- with its nostalgic chord progressions and cappuccino-warm organ -- would fit well on any Starbucks playlist.- Rolling Stone
Amos Lee is not going to slay anyone on first hearing. But it's the kind of album that nearly everyone will like, at least a little bit. And it announces the arrival of a singer who seems built for the long haul.- Dan Deluca for Knight Ridder News Service
Like the man says - he keeps it loose and lets it all hang out. If Norah Jones can strike it rich with her two albums, then Amos Lee deserves a Grammy for this remarkable debut. - Elly Roberts on Allgigs.Uk
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