Amos Lee: Mission Bell
Ahmed Abdel Razeq
singer-songwriter Amos Lee can easily be pigeonholed into the folk genre, given
his mellow acoustic sound and sweet voice. In fact, Lee’s sound
is described best as a fusion of jazz, folk, soul, gospel and country. Debuting
in 2005, Lee has recorded duets with Norah Jones and played alongside Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.
Three albums later,
Lee is back in 2011 with Mission Bell, a twelve-track album produced by
Joey Burns of indie rock band Calexico and featuring Calexico, Willie Nelson,
Lucinda Williams and Sam Beam, also known as Iron & Wine. The album feels
more like a tribute to all of Lee’s diverse musical genres and influences,
including Bill Withers and James Taylor.
Lee seems to be experminenting with different genres to see which fits best, shifting
between gospel, soul and country. His mellow, acoustic songs talk about
redemption, faith and romantic loss set against sweet and
simple arrangements. His tracks would definitely fall into the easy-listening
category; but that may also be a disadvantage: though it’s a pleasure to listen
to, the album doesn’t come across as particularly memorable.
Lee channels Stevie
Wonder on ‘Hello Again’, an easy, sing-along ballad with a smooth Latin groove and
brass trumpets in the background. Then he shifts drastically to ‘Jesus,’ a heavy
gospel song with handclaps, tambourines and a distorted harmonica that sets the
scene for the gritty sound of the low electronic guitar. It’s a good song that
strays so true to the gospel formula; you expect a church choir to break out at
any time. Not only is Bill Withers’
influence heavily felt on this track; but his band member James Gadson is
featured on guitar as if to confirm this tribute.
‘Out of The Cold’
takes a more sober route with an echoing sound complete with acoustic guitars,
subtle rhythm and lyrics that barely scrape the surface of trauma and solitude
– the song was apparently inspired by his visit to a military rehabilitation
centre: ‘Twenty two years/ Still you feel so old/ It takes a lot of love/
Coming out of the cold’.
‘Violin’ is one of the
strongest tracks on the album, showcasing his honey-like vocals with a melancholic
melody and echoing background vocals by Iron &
Wine’s Sam Beam.
On ‘Behind Me Now/ El
Camino Reprise,’ Lee takes the first part of the song, echoing his vocals
against an organ and acoustic guitars; making the song sound like the
soundtrack to an empty desert road. Country legend Willie Nelson duets with
Lee on the second part ‘El Camino Reprise’, his nasal voice providing the perfect sound to Lee’s country song.
Mission Bell is a good acoustic album with some standout tracks; the kind that you’ll
play in the background while reading a book or having a coffee. It’s
essentially not as captivating as it should be, but the album will wash over
you like a warm, pleasant wave.