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Amos Lee, Mission Bell
Blue Note Records, Jan. 25

01/13/11
By Eric Saeger news@hippopress.com



Being that “Kid” was the only tune on Lee’s last LP Last Days at the Lodge that threw a spotlight on a slide guitar, it’s a bit surprising that he’s gone full-out Americana for Mission Bell.  He’s a Blue Note guy, which usually gets my Pavlovian responses prepped for jazz when stuff comes in from the label, but that’s all by the boards now as he parlays his croaky but slick tenor — a cross between Otis Redding and James Taylor if you ask me — into this pretty but occasionally weird effort, totally abandoning the Train/Black Crows things that showed up last album.  This latest sea change was produced and guested by Calexico’s crew, so the occasional mariachi isn’t such a stretch, and it’s nicer, more everyday useful than LDATL, the easy standout being the loping jangler “Windows Are Rolled Down,” a joint that Rhett Miller would smack into the cheap seats.  Lee’s less showy sensibilities don’t play to the cheap seats, although a long, concerned flyover of the album in his head might have helped, if it had inspired him to delete the Sam Beam-guested “Violin,” its hook embarrassingly close to the one in “Windows.” Only other quibble is that I don’t think whiskey-soaked C&W album-opener “El Camino” was worth a reprise by Willie Nelson at album close, but there’s that whole “Uh, Willie Nelson’s here in the studio” thing, I suppose. A- — Eric W. Saeger






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