Amos Lee - As The Crow Flies

Amos Lee
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With his relaxed Dylanesque singer-songwriter persona and his brand of rustic soul, Amos Lee catapulted onto SoundScan’s radar with his fourth album, 2011's Mission Bell. Despite it being overshadowed by a drove of country-fried special guests, the #1 album and its accompanying lead single, “Windows Are Rolled Down,” opened up broader possibilities for a guy that could easily be seen walking the much trodden road of Bill Withers. A year later, Lee enters the vault of Mission Bell outtakes and salvages six tracks from becoming a victim of catalog corrosion to create his third EP, As the Crow Flies.

With his relaxed Dylanesque singer-songwriter persona and his brand of rustic soul, Amos Lee catapulted onto SoundScan’s radar with his fourth album, 2011's Mission Bell. Despite it being overshadowed by a drove of country-fried special guests, the #1 album and its accompanying lead single, “Windows Are Rolled Down,” opened up broader possibilities for a guy that could easily be seen walking the much trodden road of Bill Withers. A year later, Lee enters the vault of Mission Bell outtakes and salvages six tracks from becoming a victim of catalog corrosion to create his third EP, As the Crow Flies.

With the blessing of the album’s poignant idiom-inspired title (crows fly in straight lines from point A to point B), the events that develop As the Crow Flies could’ve easily fit into Lee’s predecessor, if it hadn’t already been stuffed with appearances from Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Sam Beam and others. On this EP, Lee - accompanied by alt-country band Caleixco - is isolated from all the star power, while Calexico frontman Joey Burns produces a dreamy acoustic environment that manages to once again blend Lee’s cozy soul and rural Americana efficiently.

“The Darkness” opens up the journey with My Morning Jacket band balladry while using occasional strings and darker melodic embellishments to create its scenery. Then Lee takes “Simple Things” - a song screaming for a big pop arrangement -and strips it down to an intimate state of solemnity. The mix of his twangy vocal and sparse piano give off a warm, lounge act appeal, which is a step up from feeling like a track buried in a coma. The tempo on “Say Goodbye” brightens up the disc just enough for a honky tonk line dance, although Lee is left wallowing in the dirt of a soured love affair: “You don’t have to speak, I can see it in your eye/Say no more, say goodbye.” Most of the tracks are marginal to fair, slightly above sub-par for alt-folk, but the closing track, “There I Go Again,” is the kind of track that originally turned us on to his musicianship. The song’s melodic chord loops, Memphis-styled organ and an angelic round of background vocals all create a kind of tapestry that adds another layer of sophistication to Amos Lee’s simplicity.

As the Crow Flies, a healthy addition to Lee’s catalog, never drifts away from its consciousness of laid-back ballads and country time R&R, nor does it ever excite or elevate Lee to dream bigger innovations, but you shouldn’t expect the crow to make a detour or a change of pace when it’s so addicted to taking the shortcut. Still, there’s enough substance and grit on the EP to prepare him for graduation. Hopefully, on his next pursuit, his choice of bird will drift from crow to eagle. Recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb

 

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