Philly native stakes claim to soul-singing greatness
You can think of him as Noah Jones if you like, the male equivalent of Norah.
The comparison is inevitable on this Philadelphia soul man’s debut. He’s on the same label, he shares the same band, he employs the same understated acoustic soul/folk/blues template, and the Grammy Queen herself plays piano and sings backup vocals on a couple tracks.
But although Jones is clearly the touchstone for his music, Amos Lee has created an amalgam all his own. Mixing Al Green’s otherworldly falsetto, Otis Redding’s pleading ballad style, and the folk underpinnings and languorous phrasing of James Taylor’s early-’70s work, Lee delivers an album that nods to the past while still sounding timeless and vibrant. The secret weapon is Lee’s voice—silky smooth and urbane here, gritty and gutbucket there, a supple, soaring instrument capable of inexhaustible variations in timbre and inflection. He’s a terrific singer, and when he pairs his voice with the Dylanesque “Seen It All Before,” the tender Otis impression on “Arms of a Woman” and the gospel-inflected “Black River,” the results are very fine indeed.
Although “Give It Up” and “Bottom of the Barrel” add some needed funk, this is predominantly a low-key affair. Sometimes a little too low key. A number of the arrangements beg—fervently at times—to be relegated to background mood-setting at dinner parties. But they are consistently redeemed by the beauty of Lee’s voice. He’s succeeded in delivering a remarkably stylish, assured debut.