Spirit – Amos Lee
On his sixth studio album, and first since 2013’s excellent Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song, Amos Lee serves as producer for the first time and transforms his sound from the previous album’s folk/country sound to a full-band gospel-soul-R&B sound. Lee builds on his concert experiences to make his new sound more dynamic, including an effective use of horns, organ, and background vocals. In addition to members of his road band, he brought in drummer Mark Colenburg and bassist Adam Blackstone to punch up his rhythm section. Lee’s voice has also never sounded better on this album recorded at a converted Nashville church. I liked this album and the energy in the music a lot, though lyrically many of the songs are about relationships that have gone bad.
This is one the top releases of 2016 thus far. Here are a few comments about each of the songs on the album:
New Love – Opens with piano and then shows off the new full-band sound, particularly the horns with Jeff Coffin on saxophone and Rashawn Ross on trumpet. The song is about the joy of new love, while at the same time showing off the band’s exciting new sound.
Running Out of Time – Since hearing of his “new found faith” on “Windows Rolled Down” on Mission Bell, I’ve been looking for signs of faith and spirituality from Lee. You find it here on this gospel song, featuring hand claps and a repeated refrain of “Lord have mercy” as he is running out of time. This song is about the brevity of life. Lee called it “A reminder and a recognizing of the impermanence we share here on earth”. The upbeat song includes a reference to a train, a common theme in Lee’s music. It also features some excellent horns and organ.
Spirit – Lee has stated that he wrote this song after being moved by a New Orleans street singer he encountered who had a deep connection with his music. He refers to the “pain that she gave to me”, one of several references to a painful breakup that Lee writes about on the album. The song features piano, organ and background vocals. Lee sings that he just wants to feel the spirit wash over him.
Lost Child – One reviewer compares this song to Stevie Wonder from his Innervisions period. I don’t disagree. Through the pain he can see the clouds drifting away for a celebration day. The music is upbeat and catchy, featuring a great vocal, horns, drums and background vocals.
Highways and Clouds – Lee has stated that for this song he didn’t want to just do the standard waltz feel that’s led by the acoustic guitar, but wanted to add dimensions to the arrangements and try to transform them, rhythmically and instrumentally, so that the album was cohesive. This song opens with acapella vocals, followed quickly by Lee’s and Luther Dickinson’s guitars, and then drums, keyboards and horns. This is another story song. The singer is from the Badlands. Highways and clouds meet in the middle. Features some effective backing vocals.
Lightly – This is another of Lee’s “story songs”. He is from “all over”, was born in the wind, and has learned to travel lightly, living alone, and if he moves fast enough the darkness can’t catch up to him. Features some good background vocals and guitar. That comes through beautifully on a striking ballad called Lightly, which Lee builds around a surprisingly elegant banjo riffThat comes through beautifully on a striking ballad called Lightly, which Lee builds around a surprisingly elegant banjo riffThat comes through beautifully on a striking ballad called Lightly, which Lee builds around a surprisingly elegant banjo riff
One Lonely Light – This beautiful song starts as an acoustic number and gently builds. The singer states that there are times when he doesn’t feel like he is “a damn bit of good”. He sings of pain on this gospel flavored song, which features good backing vocals. He sings of storms in the night with waves raging and crashing and winds howling. What is the lonely light he sings of? Is it a woman? Is it God? Who is he singing to as he sings “Oh I’ll sing for you, what more can I do, Oh I’ll sing for you”.
Wait Up For Me – This songs features an acoustic guitar, piano, accordion, mandolin and gentle backing vocals. The singer encourages a woman to wait up for him so she doesn’t have to be alone. He is on the road, lost in the world, ragged and blue. But he’s coming home. Musically, this song would fit on Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song.
Til You Come Back Through – Lee sings in falsetto here as he delivers an outstanding vocal performance. He sings to a woman he has been waiting his whole life for, but she is leaving forever. He has no choice but to say good-bye until she comes back through. Features acoustic guitar and keyboards, but the focus is on Lee’s emotional vocal.
Hurt Me – This song features punchy strings. It’s another song about a relationship that has gone bad. He’s feeling blown away and is at the breaking point. He doesn’t know how he will make it through the day. He doesn’t want mercy tonight and asks if she is strong enough to watch him die. He sings that he’s begging her to free the pain that locks me up inside.
Vaporize – The first single from the album, this is another song about a painful relationship that has gone bad. Programmed beats and piano open this song. In an emotional vocal, he sings that he’s going to vaporize everything that’s inside and get “high, high, high….”
Walls – Lee sings this song about a failed relationship in falsetto. It has a soft beat punctuated by keys. He sings that she’s writing on his walls that she’s not in love with him anymore and has found someone new. Features some good backing vocals.
With You – This song opens with acoustic guitar and features some amazing strings and vocal from Lee. He is singing to a woman that he doesn’t want to lose. He wants to see another summer and sunsets with her. He’s going to keep her with him wherever she goes.