Lee's unreached potential: Let's Talk About Rock

Posted by Lee's unreached potential

Former Philadelphia middle-school teacher Amos Lee released his fourth studio album, "Mission Bell," which was produced by Calexico front man Joey Burns on Jan 25.

The album features appearances from legends of the country music industry such as Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams. Sales of Lee's latest album have been boosted by the performance of his 2005 song "Dreaming," by Scott Dangerfield during the audition round of American Idol.

This led to Lee's first ever no.  1 on the Billboards, barely beating out Iron & Wine's "Kiss Each Other Clean."

According to Neilson Soundscape, however, the 40,478 copies that Lee sold represents the lowest ever number one debut, a record previously held by hipster icon, Cake.

Despite the honor of being a No. 1 record, "Mission Bell" has been the subject of much mixed reception.

However, this is not an indicator of a lack of talent on Lee's part.

It would be a stretch to call the album unpleasant to listen to – every song is beautiful and enjoyable. Sure, the songwriting could potentially be better, more insightful.

The song "Flower," especially sounds like a first draft that never got a final revision.  "My heart is a flower/That blooms every hour/And I believe in the power/of love," Lee sings, although he does so pleasantly.  

The true pattern of the shortcomings of this album lies in the category of unreached potential.  Despite working with a new producer, the music backing Lee's wonderful, constantly adapting voice is widely the same as in his previous albums.

Lee's collaborative track with Alternative Country icon Lucinda Williams, "Clear Blue Eyes," is, again, a nice song, but lacks anything to make it truly interesting or memorable.

That is not to say that the album is bad.  It would be very difficult to support such a claim.  There are many bright spots on the album, including the last track,

"Behind Me Now/El Camino Reprise," which features the man, the myth and the stoner, Willie Nelson. Not only is this track heart-wrenchingly beautiful, but it also shows Lee's power of self-improvement.

The album opens with El Camino and ends with El Camino Reprise.  Simple enough, right? But this nine minute revisit to the opening track fixes all the shortcomings of the original, mostly due to Willie Nelson's wizened old voice and a sense of better understanding of the track itself by Lee.

There are several other noteworthy tracks on the album.  The first that comes to mind is the catchy soulfulness of "Windows Are Rolled Down," a song driven by a steady, unassuming drumbeat and a killer hook.

"Violin" and "Out of the Cold" are two other great achievements on the album, albeit for very different reasons.  "Out of the Cold," with its eerie blues guitar riff and Lee's equally evocative vocal work, is a haunting song of deep introspection and the cold reality of war.

"It's hard to argue with a bullet-proof vest/But you can't walk straight with a bullet in your chest/Another man down with a flag to fold/It takes a lot of loving coming out of the cold," Lee calmly sings.

The success of Lee's new album seems to indicate nothing less than a dramatic rise in popularity for this 33-year old singer-songwriter.

This is also indicated by the international tour Lee will begin in March with shows in Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam and London.

For American fans, however, there is no need to fear, for Lee will be touring all across the U.S. from now until May.

Eli Cohen is a sophomore music major from Middlebury, Vt.

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