Supply and Demand - Amos Lee

2006-12-28 10:32
Supply and demand in the music industry often results in what's called a "difficult second album." Why does this happen? Well, because an artist spends years waiting to be discovered while perfecting the material for their first album. They had plenty of time to write it, in other words.

But once "discovered", they're expected to follow up with a second album soon. This might have some of their older songs on it, but they're often expected to produce most of album two in a year, while on a punishing touring schedule to promote their first album... you see the problem, right?

(Case in point: Maroon Five? Will they be a one hit wonder, perpetually hitting obscure and grateful nations' stadiums with 15 songs and an atrocious cover of "Highway to Hell"? Time will tell.) Amos Lee's debut was an album of enduring quality and listenability - and subtlety that took the country tradtion and modernised it. Supply and Demand does the same.

Like many American-based singer-songwriter albums of 2006 - like John Mayer's, Just Jinjer's and Tom Waits' latest works - this album is concerned with the relationship between ourselves, and others, and The War. Let's not forget that America has been at war with Iraq longer than they were involved in World War II, and they're sick of it (and if they're sick of it, imagine how the average civilian Iraqi feels)!

"Shout Out Loud" wonders how others feel. It wonders about the lives of people hidden behind lit windows in a city at night, and behind the bombs, and fights the CNN-flavoured facelessness we often accept. It's a troubled work, but beautiful too.

"Careless" is a heartbreaking portrait of loss of friendship and love to infidelity. You all know someone it's about. Other tracks play in the older playground of country and soul, and they're beautiful, beautifully sung with subtle inflection from the head, not just the gut - Amos Lee's specialty so far.

Even when this singer-songwriter is hard to believe, he's nice to listen to. "Night Train", a relaxed and dreamy number on which he claims to be drinking coffee and taking cocaine, while feeling relaxed and dreamy is right up there with the least credible soul songs of 2006. But it goes down easy. Like the traditional-as-jerky title track. For some listeners, these less original moments will be their favourites, but by drifting any further down the "digestible" road, Amos Lee risks losing what made him special.

That specialness is still there, though. "Sympathise", a buoyant crush-on-life song that's hard to place or analyse, is the real moment of brilliance on Supply and Demand. It's a whimsical almost-single that would be on radio in a more alive and thinking world. Speaking of thinking, the inescapable anti-war message of "Freedom" is hard to argue with: "I don't want to be a martyr in this war / Don't want to hear the same excuses anymore / That everything's a threat / And it's only gonna get worse if we let it."

Good modern country-pop music is always hard to separate from its message, whether that be personal or political. The blend of elements on Amos Lee's second album feels as natural as it did on his first.

- Jean Barker
Amos Lee's Supply and Demand will be a relief to existing fans, delivering more of what he gave the first time, with meaning tuned to the social and political concerns of 2006.

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