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What I’m listening to this week: Amos Lee

July 17, 2009

Supply and Demand – 2006

This was singer-songwriter Amos Lee‘s sophomore album (in my opinion also his best album) and Supply and Demand proved one thing definitively: Lee has an amazing voice.  He possesses soul, grit, and the blues along with the necessary expressiveness to carry lyrics very well.  This fact is actually important if you want to like Amos Lee, because his skills as a songwriter are still budding.  There are gems within the lyrics to be sure, but there are a few clunkers too, and that’s natural to expect from this more confessional style of music.  Also, the musical arrangements on the album were pretty specifically created to showcase Lee; it’s typical acoustic-led folk with a few adornments here and there.  It’s all very well done, but not singularly compelling without Lee.

Supply and Demand starts out with one of the album’s singles, “Shout Out Loud”.  It’s actually a perfect example of the songwriting I was referring to; it’s perhaps a smidge too inner-thought oriented, but Lee sings it with such conviction that the song wins you over halfway through.  And in fact, in my opinion, it’s one of the best tracks on the album.  The next track, “Sympathize” is more impressive lyrically, but doesn’t match the hook and power of “Shout Out Loud”.

By the third song, “Freedom”, you get the feeling that the combo of singing, lyrics, and music finally gel with fantastic results.  “Freedom” has a politically charged message that is unexpectedly insightful featuring lyrics like these:  “Don’t wanna blame the rich for what they got/Don’t point a finger at the poor for what they have not” and “While the leaders will deny defeat/Innocents, they testify by dying in the street”.  “Careless” continues down that path; it’s an exceptionally well-written slow and heartfelt ballad that conveys a true sense of despair.

The title track “Supply and Demand” hearkens back to early folk-country singer-songwriters musically and in Lee’s delivery, and is endeared to his album-wide social message of life, love, family, and humanity above all else.  “Supply and Demand” drives it home by starting out with this verse: “Somethin’ gotta give with the way I’m livin’/Seems I’m gettin’ down everyday/The more I strive, the less I’m alive/And seems I’m gettin’ further away.”

Among these handful of great tracks, there is also “Night Train”, the most striking song on the album.  It’s like a confession divulged (sample lyric from the chorus: “Well I’m out here on my night train/Drinking coffee, taking cocaine”), and the music is sparse and low-key against Lee’s stark and desolate vocals.  The story is so well-told that you can easily picture the entire bleak scene.

There are many other pleasing tracks on Supply and Demand that you’ll listen to just for Lee’s vocal performance (“The Wind”, “Southern Girl”).  While this album may not fully satisfy those looking for the new next-big-thing in the singer-songwriter field, it will comfort, enliven, and indulge those looking to hear a very gifted bluesy singer with a message to deliver.

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