Amos Lee may not be a name you are familiar with. Hailing from Philadelphia, PA, the folk artist has managed to stay underneath the radar of popular, mainstream music – until now. His fourth album, “Mission Bell” immediately went #1 on both the iTunes and Amazon.com music charts upon release. It seems the rest of the world is catching on to the outstanding singer/songwriter and “Mission Bell” is a fantastic introduction to those who have yet to experience his music.
The album opens with “El Camino,” a gentle, acoustic track with a Spanish-inspired arrangement. It’s a great testament to how Amos is a master of almost any genre of music. The next track, and first single, “Windows Are Rolled Down” shifts the momentum dramatically. It’s as if the song grows a pair of wings and soars for freedom as it’s being played. It makes you want to hit the open road and listen to music with the windows rolled down. Amos has quite an amazing voice, but he rarely shows off his full range. In this track, we actually get to hear him belt out the chorus and flaunt his set of pipes.
While Amos doesn’t claim to belong to any particular religion, faith and spiritual allusions are found frequently throughout this record. In an interview with CNN, Amos said, “The closest place that I feel like I come to having religious moments is always musical.” In “Violin,” a sad song about the brokenness he sees around him, Amos sings, “Oh God why you been hanging out in that old violin, while I’ve been waiting for you to pull me through?” It’s a heart-felt and seeking cry which hopefully will be answered one day.
“Flower” is the most up-beat and feel-good song on the album. It radiates love, hope and pleasure in the good things in life. “My heart is like a flower that blooms every hour. I believe in the power of love,” boasts the singer. This track has a 70’s soulful groove to it and is already becoming a fan favorite. “Stay With Me” is tender and desperate as Amos asks a lover to stick by his side, no matter what.
“Out of the Cold” is a haunting tale of someone who is coping with the loss of a loved one due to war. He states, “It takes a lot of loving coming out of the cold.” The next song, “Jesus,” is a bit more hopeful, but longing nonetheless. “Oh, Jesus can you help me now? Well, I’ve never felt so alone.” Written after the death of his grandfather, Amos once again cries out for help in time of need. This song is the heaviest on the record with a bluesy and edgy sound.
More of that Latin flavor appears on “Hello Again,” a song about a woman who lost her way in life: “You used to be so beautiful but you lost it somewhere along the way. You used to be so beautiful but it’s easier now to walk away.” The next tune, “Learned A Lot” is one that I can personally identify with. This piano driven song, in the vein of old-school R&B, reminisces over past regrets but relents that lessons were learned from those mistakes. In the end, Amos proclaims, “Nobody ever told me living was easy. I ain’t living in fear anymore.”
Bursting with spiritual terminology is “Cup of Sorrow,” a catchy song which takes a page from classic country’s songbook. Amos sings, “I want to drink from your cup of sorrow. I want to bathe in your holy blood. I want to sleep with the promise of tomorrow. I know tomorrow may never come.” He also warns his fellow man to be careful of the way he behaves, because it affects those around him: “If we keep down this pathway to destruction, our children will suffer for our haste.”
Two of Amos’ musical influences lend their vocals to this record. The first of these is Lucinda Williams on “Clear Blue Eyes.” The song is solid in itself, but unfortunately Lucinda’s vocals seem a bit sleepy, almost to the point of distraction. However, she does sound pleasant singing with Amos during the latter choruses. “Behind Me Now” is another sorrowful song about loss and scars. In one of its most heartbreaking lines, Amos says, “And if you want love than I suggest that you not wait. ‘Cause I will know not what I’ve waited at heaven’s gate.” Stylistically and vocally this is a unique song on the album.
Rounding out the record and bringing it back full-circle is the reprise of “El Camino.” This arrangement is a bit different than the first, dropping the horns and adding the harmonica. This addition is a fitting accompaniment to the song’s guest vocalist, Willie Nelson. I prefer his performance out of the two duets, even if his voice obviously sounds shaky. Amos sings of leaving his friends and family behind and setting out onto his journey to “Mission Bell.” And what a musical journey it is!