Amos Lee - Last Days At The Lodge (2008)

Amos Lee
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Before commencing with this review, I implore you to remember the words "Won't Let Me Go."

Much can be deduced from the first track of an Amos Lee album. "Keep It Lose, Keep It Tight" was a sparse, pleasant, and introspective track from the Philly-based singer-songwriter's 2005 self-titled debut. On Amos Lee, producer Lee Alexander created an artist ripe for NPR and latte-sipping yuppies. However, anyone who caught Lee in concert in support of Amos Lee knew that the album only hinted at the scope of his talent. A grittier artist lay concealed underneath the solid but inoffensive soundscapes. Barrie Maguire (formerly of The Wallflowers) elicited a wider array of moods from Lee on the superb follow-up Supply and Demand (2006). Within the first minute of "Shout Out Loud," it was clear that the album would showcase more of Amos Lee's vocal range and include more elements of his concert personality.

Before commencing with this review, I implore you to remember the words "Won't Let Me Go."

Much can be deduced from the first track of an Amos Lee album. "Keep It Lose, Keep It Tight" was a sparse, pleasant, and introspective track from the Philly-based singer-songwriter's 2005 self-titled debut. On Amos Lee, producer Lee Alexander created an artist ripe for NPR and latte-sipping yuppies. However, anyone who caught Lee in concert in support of Amos Lee knew that the album only hinted at the scope of his talent. A grittier artist lay concealed underneath the solid but inoffensive soundscapes. Barrie Maguire (formerly of The Wallflowers) elicited a wider array of moods from Lee on the superb follow-up Supply and Demand (2006). Within the first minute of "Shout Out Loud," it was clear that the album would showcase more of Amos Lee's vocal range and include more elements of his concert personality. Most importantly, the album allayed any worries about a sophomore slump.  Two years later, another moment of truth has arrived. "Listen" is the boldest step Amos Lee has taken towards rock on a studio album and, as the first track on Last Days at the Lodge, it foretells the most satisfying offering from Amos Lee yet.

Whereas many artists are dropped from labels for underperforming or not catching fire with Top 40 Radio, Lee's label, Blue Note, has nurtured his development. Four years into his career as a recording artist, Amos Lee has grown into his sound. The maturation of his voice from tireless performing and touring is the most obvious piece of evidence but his songs are also fleshed-out a bit more than on previous efforts. Credit producer Don Was for keeping the meat on the bones, so to speak. Lee's fantastic core of musicians is also to thank, including Doyle Bramhall, Jr. (guitar), Spooner Oldham (keyboards), Pino Palladino (bass), and James Gadson (drums).

Throughout Last Days at the Lodge, Lee alternates between narrating a story ("Street Corner Preacher"), assuming the roll of a character ("Truth"), and, one surmises, drawing from his own lessons in life and love ("Better Days"). Often, his voice sways from a slight Southern drawl to a pristine elocution as it does on "Kid."  His angelic falsetto takes flight on a couple of numbers, notably "Jails and Bombs," where he queries, "Will we ever see the common bond of humanity?" From a distance, the song sounds fit for a love serenade but the political critique is embedded in the grooves is anything but.

"Won't Let Me Go" is, quite simply, the best track Amos Lee has ever recorded, which is high praise given the instant classic status of "Arms of a Woman" from his debut album. The opening drum beat dives into a sumptuous yet deceptively simple bass-driven arrangement, affording much space for Lee's vocals to shine. "I want to know if you want to get together," he sings, consumed by desire. His inflection on "know" induces shivers in all the right places. It's an invitation to a private party from Lee to the woman of his dreams. Strings float into the mix after the climatic bridge, softening the rough edges of Lee's growing passion. Amidst eleven tracks of quality music, "Won't Let Me Go" makes the heart swoon. If you can only find one reason to investigate Amos Lee, this song should be it.

Last Days at the Lodge also illustrates that, with each album, Amos Lee is less and less easy to classify. Soul, blues, rock, pop, folk, country - they're all equally a part of the whole.  To these ears, that is the sound of artistic liberation, of which Amos Lee is, now, clearly a master.

By Christian John Wikane

 
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