Monday, February 07, 2011

Album Review: Amos Lee - Mission Bell (4/5)

Mission Bell, the fourth album from American singer-songwriter Amos Lee, is an album I saw myself getting into quite a bit after listening to and loving his 2001 self-titled début—an acoustic-driven album that perfectly embodied soul, soft-rock with pop shadowed melodies. This album on the other-hand swaps sweet soul for a more contemplative, rootsy folkish sound with a darker bearing. I considered giving it a miss but it's gotten quite good reviews and it's selling well (it debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200).

“El Camino” quickly establishes the albums folksy, bluegrass mainframe—soft acoustic guitar strings, attenuate piano keys and percussion—but there's still a subtle bluesy undertone although nothing as barefaced as his début. There's a reprise featuring country legend Willie Nelson tagged onto the end of the album with a more restraint production; stripped down to just an acoustic guitar. It's followed by “Windows Are Rolled Down,” which is one of the albums more stronger tracks—Lee's distinctive, bold raspy vocal serving the song well; complimenting its fuller musical arrangement—drums, galloping guitar strings with a layer of muffled guitaric undertones.

“Violin” swoons with sweet melodies, driven by lenient guitars and drums—it's a very light arrangement which is countered by its dark lyrics (“I've been headed for a breakdown, every time I leave my house”). “Flower” clocks in a lot of illusive melody too—but with more soulful overtones. Shedding some vulnerability is “Stay with Me,” a tender slice of soulful balladry; distinctive drums, piano chords and delicate guitar patterns perfectly matched with his effervescent vocal exploring a layer of emotional depth.

Guitar-fiddling “Out of the Cold” is the most mellow number on here. Very restraint and tame, reigning in the guitar strings a little, whereas “Jesus” explores a more feisty sound with its layered throwback Western influenced production. There's some jaunty handclaps thrown in there too, beneath its rootsy country/rock tinged composition. “Cup of Sorrow” stems from the same country-tinged vein too.

The last couple tracks are pretty good too. There's more swooning melodic Western-influenced soft-rock with “Hello Again,” followed by some luscious piano-laced balladry with “Learned a Lot” and the heart-on-the-sleeve “Clear Blue Eyes” featuring American country singer Lucinda Williams. Before the “El Camino” reprise with Willie Nelson, the last track is “Behind Me Now” a haunting but plodding guitar and piano driven number.

Mission Bell showcases a lot of growth from Amos Lee's soulful debut—exploring more rootsy, country influenced sounds. The feeling here is more serious and contemplative, although I do miss the light-hearted ambiance of his début. He's released two albums since then that I haven't listened to so I'm not quite sure if this sound is just an extension of those but in all it's a more than decent set.

Best: Windows Are Rolled Down, Stay with Me, El Camino, Flower, Jesus

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