Amos Lee Leaves Twang For Soul on ‘Spirit’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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amoseleespiritFrom the horn intro leading to the first verse of album opener “New Love,” it’s clear that Amos Lee is again taking his sound in a new direction. After years of crafting his unique folk/soul hybrid over his first four albums, on 2013’s Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song Lee successfully experimented with the country side of folk, resulting in one of his best albums. For Lee’s sixth album, titled Spirit, the twang is in short supply. Instead, Lee dials up the soul influence.

From his debut album, Lee has fuzed soul-influenced cadences and vocal deliveries with acoustic folk strumming. With Spirit, Lee draws R&B grooves into the mix, using slinky basslines and rhythms to add to the flavor. Songs like “New Love” and “Til You Come Back Through” are Lee’s versions of slow jams. “Highways and Clouds,” with its staccato beat and lead guitar flourishes, is Lee’s funkiest song to date.

Loneliness and dysfunctional relationships are major themes of the album, Lee’s emotionally charged vocals highlighting the sadness of isolation and heartbreak. In “Vaporize,” Lee sings of a girl who he “should’ve let walk away,” one who makes him feel so bad that he wants to numb his feelings. In “Hurt Me,” amidst dramatic swirling strings, Lee pleads, “I’m begging you to free the pain that locks me up inside.”

“New Love” may be Spirit’s most optimistic love song, but it shows that new relationships are equal parts exciting and awkward. “She’s lying there silently, patiently. Wondering if I can kiss her on her shoulder,” Lee croons. In “Wait Up For Me,” Lee offers consolation to the lonely. “I’ll be coming home so you don’t have to be alone.”

Spirit’s best moments come when Lee dials up the soul, adding extra vibrato to his silky voice and extra flavor to the back beat. Its quieter songs don’t have the same impact, though. They lack the raw emotion of Lee’s earlier work and don’t have strong music to carry them so they come off as rather bland. Still, Lee’s voice is his best instrument and is capable of covering a multitude of sins.

As with Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, the bonus tracks found on the Deluxe Edition of Spirit are two of the album’s best songs. “Don’t Leave Me” has a twangy folk sound that would have fit well on the previous album while “New Day” is an upbeat rocker that shows Lee should delve into rock music more often.

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