Now, I know it was released in January, but that is precisely why Amos Lee’s newest album, Mission Bell, is such a treasure…because I’m still listening to it! Like many of you, I’m sure, I tend to get burnt out on a playlist fairly quickly, but Amos has had a stranglehold on my ears for months now.
I was lucky enough to see him in concert the night before the album dropped, and he just might have put on the best live show I’ve ever seen and heard… seriously. Go see him! He was quite vocal about his excitement over the album release the next day, announcing to the crowd that he “felt like we were waiting for Santa to come down the chimney.” Fortunately, we must have all been good boys and girls, because Mission Bell is a soulful, heartfelt, bluesy-meets-folk-with-a-hint-of-jazz masterpiece.
Mission Bell is a very intimate musical portrait, capturing Lee’s soulful sound and poetic harmonies. A true artist, Lee forms a deep connection with every lyric and note, a union that comes through sublimely to the listener. A few of my new favorites are “El Camino,” “Flower,” “Cup of Sorrow,” and “Windows Are Rolled Down” (which has been stuck in my head for almost two weeks straight now. Not that I’m complaining). Here’s what the former Philadelphia schoolteacher had to say about the album-writing process on his Facebook page:
My last two records were a little rushed, because I was touring so much and running around a lot…On this one, I took a year and a half and I just sat at home and wrote. I spent more time alone with these songs than I ever did in the past, which I think was really helpful. It was like going to a yard sale or a thrift store—you go through the first time and you might see something, but then you have to keep going back and forth because you always find something else there.
At his show here in Chico, Amos was playing the song “Black River,” an especially emotional verse, when a loudmouthed concert-goer’s antics had him visibly unsettled. He stopped mid-song, put his guitar down, and announced, “I can’t do this.” He went on to explain how disrespected he felt by the laughing and shouting going on while he was pouring his heart into the performance. (To this, the audience erupted in applause. We didn’t want some loser messing up the mood either.)
You’ll be happy to know that the rowdy fan was escorted out of the building and the show went on. I wasn’t quite sure how to react to the situation at first; I think everyone felt a little awkward and embarassed that this had to happen in our town. But once Amos got going again, the tension subsided and the magical feeling was back. It just showed how seriously Amos Lee takes his art, and how important it is for him to connect to what he’s playing, so that his audience can connect too.
Like Mission Bell, his three previous albums, Amos Lee, Supply and Demand, and Last Days at the Lodge were similarly extraordinary. My favorites? Whichever one I happen to be listening to…But if I must choose, some of my most beloved are: “Colors,” “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight,” “Truth,” “Sympathize,” and “Supply and Demand.”
Now, if you’ll allow me to gush just a teensy bit longer, I can’t leave you without praising Amos Lee’s voice. His vocal range is incredible and his sound will move you to the core. It’s no wonder Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the “Top Ten Artists to Watch” in 2005. I’ll keep watching, thank you.
PS: Check out his opening act: Vusi Mahlasela. Incredible.