Mission Bell - Amos Lee

Hard to believe that so drenched a rootsy folker as Amos Lee didn't even bother much with music until well into college days wherein he stumbled across John Prine's Great Days release, deciding on the spot that this was something he had to get into; the guy's such a natural that none would blink were we to be told he'd begun his sonic adventuring a mere three weeks after nativity. Later, playing bass in a local group and working at a record store, he ran across the work of Joni Mitchell, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, and other luminaries. Upon such discoveries, he further understood what was what only too well, soon opening for cats like Mose Allison and B.B. King. Still later, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Merle Haggard, and a host of the touring heaviest hitters would ask him to grace the stage before them. When you have as much talent as Lee does, life can be quite good indeed.

This is his fourth release, and if you want to know how good it is, here's a statistic: the first rose to 113 on the charts, the second hit 79, the third peaked at 29, and this one has already nabbed the top slot, debuting at #1, well deserving of the distinction. This is a gent who has that indefinable highly attractive something that not a scribe in the land could properly frame in words. Joni had it, so did Prine, David Wilcox is another, and Amos Lee is at one with all of them in that respect, a musical seraph. Every so often, one almost raptures away in beatification while listening to Mission Bell, especially cuts like "Violin". Each artist that comes our way is the effect of his or her influences, but some transcend that background so utterly that you'd be hard-put to trace them back to antecedents. Amos Lee is definitely among that select august group. Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Mickey Raphael, Sam Beam, and others sit in on this disc as testament to the fact.

There's a natural beauty present in everything Lee does, as well as simple uncluttered realism, a knowingness that neither pats its own back nor worries about false humility but instead stands squarely in evocations unfolding the human drama. However, when I speak of being uncluttered and of dwelling in a fundamental simplicity, don't imagine the result is stripped down, it's not. Even when spare and wistful, as in "Out of the Cold", there's a 360 degree panorama of gentle vistas and horizon-stretching skies. Very gentle jazz tones embellish here and there, every so often some white tent-revival gospel, then a rock and roll build-up, but the tenor of the disc is mellifluous, serene with waves of endless meadows rolling through.

The Innervisions flavoring of the "Hello Again" track may sneak up on you as it did on me, Lee waxing subtly Stevie Wonderish at first, plainly more so as the cut progresses, with even those way cool touches of old Margouleff & Cecil electronic inflections. Take it from me: sit down and relax when you put this on, because it's going to capture heart and mind, and I doubt you'll much feel like following it with anything but a smile and a long walk. Oh, and Jen Mussari tosses in a couple of…woodcuts?…etchings?…pen and ink drawings? for the liner art. Not sure which they are, but, man, are they ever niiiiiice!

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