Blue Note Records
My first brush with Amos Lee was with El Camino, the opening track here on Mission Bell. Although its not the paean to the late 60s-early 70s muscle-car/truck hybrid I was expecting, it’s still a road song, one that’s full of longing and wishing that’s set along El Camino Real, a historic California highway connecting several Spanish missions, and one that sets the stage for the rest of the record. The thirteen tracks that comprise the Philadelphia native’s fourth release are produced by Calexico’s Joey Burns and feature Lucinda Williams and Willie Nelson on vocals, along with members of Calexico and Sam Beam (Iron and Wine).
Although at times the tunes here sound a little too slick, as some of David Gray’s work does, mostly Lee maintains a soulful folkie tone that propels the songs along, from Jesus (written after the death of his grandfather), which carries an ethereal, Jim White vibe to Hello Again, a Stevie Wonder-infused, horn-tinged ballad. One cannot underestimate Lee’s soulful vocals, which are the strength and backbone of this record. That tragically overused word soulful is most often applied to Lee, but in this case it’s wholly appropriate: by raising his voice, he can raise our spirits, as he does on Flower and Windows Are Rolled Down, as well as on the two tracks where he shares lead vocals with his guests. Lucinda sings achingly on Clear Blue Eyes, while Willie lends his omnipresent voice to a reprise of El Camino. Lyrically, Lee may not turn a phrase as well as he bends a note, but the production and performances disguise that. Mission Bell is a very good record, one that shows Amos Lee has the potential to make a great one.