I first heard Amos Lee sing when he opened for Norah Jones in concert, in 2004. I wasn’t even particularly paying attention – some opening acts are just filler appetizers for the main event. I was rummaging in my purse, when I heard this voice that sounded like honeyed whiskey. My head shot right up, my eyes and ears remaining fixed on the stage for the duration of his set. Despite my limited student budget at the time, I soon bought a copy of Amos Lee, his eponymous debut album, which remained on repeat on my stereo for a long time.
Released on August 16 by EMI/Blue Note, his newest effort is an eight-song live set, an iTunes exclusive called Live from Soho. The sound quality is exceptional – intimate yet reflective of that great live-music vibe when a room is packed with true fans.
Lee’s bluesy voice offers the suggestion of deep wells of soulful pain. Whether this is an illusion or not, it makes for great listening. He could be described as a troubadour moderne, singing about love and loss, wandering the world with his guitar strapped to his back.
This diverse set runs the gamut of his catalog, including four songs from his most recent release, Mission Bell (“El Camino,” “Violin,” “Cup of Sorrow” and “Windows are Rolled Down”), one from Amos Lee (“Arms of a Woman”) and one from Supply and Demand (“Night Train”). Two covers, Neil Young’s “Are You Ready For the Country?” and Ween’s “Buenos Tardes Amigo,” round out the tracks.
He is backed with the minimal instrumentation of his touring band, which highlights his whiskey-smooth rumble of a voice, and a raucously inspiring group of gospel singers.
Lee plays perfect traveling music — be sure to load Live from Soho to your phone or MP3 player — especially in a song like “Windows Are Open.” As well, “Night Train” makes you feel like you’re riding the rails in an open boxcar, watching the miles slip away as you listen to Amos pick on his guitar.
In these days of Auto-tune, we’ve lost touch with the feel of back-porch music floating through the quiet of the evening. But that’s Amos Lee’s music. You can imagine sitting in the dark on the porch swing, the summer so damp and fresh you can taste it, watching the sky darken as fireflies begin to dance.