Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My 2013 Top Ten Albums

Amos Lee -- Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song
"The Man Who Wants You"

I just saw Amos Lee perform last week, as part of the WFUV Holiday Show -- which, yes, I went to because Nick Lowe was on the bill (knee-jerk fangirl that I am), but having Amos, Glen Hansard, and Calexico there too was icing on the cake. And when the assorted artists collected to sing together, whose voice rose above all the others, with a distinctive timbre like honey on toast? Man, can that cat Amos Lee sing.

I can say with pride that I've been a fan since his 2005 debut album, which is when I first saw Amos in concert (down at the borderline grubby Irving Plaza), and I've bought every record he's made since then. I like my soul music with a folky country twang, or perhaps I like my roots-rock drenched in soul -- whatever the equation, that's what Amos Lee consistently delivers. I buy Amos Lee records the minute they're released, without even listening to sample tracks.  I just know I'm going to like them, not only because of his heavenly voice but because he's also a solid songwriter and has pitch-perfect musical taste. And he hasn't let me down yet.

Truth to tell, I've been getting a little nervous, figuring that at some point Amos is going to either A) hit the big-time and get slick, or B) go spectacularly off track and try a new sound I can't stand. When I read that he'd gone to Nashville to record this new album, I began to worry that B) was going to happen. But never fear -- while Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song flirts a little more with a country sound, throwing in some pedal steel and dobro and gospel choruses, he still stays true to his core musical values. 

Which means adding a little Philly-style funk to the honky-tonk -- call it funky-tonk, if you will...

Now, is this song sexy or what? Normally Amos goes in more for the mournful break-up songs, the lost-soul plaints, the coolly detached free-spirit anthems, the political commentaries, but there is no question what this track is about: He's got a woman in his sights and he would like to close the deal.

She may be (probably is) married to someone else, or at least involved with someone else, and he's gentleman enough to bow to that. (Do we not love that, ladies?) "I don't want you to be untrue," he declares in the chorus -- knowing that we're always suckers for good manners. But clearly she can't be satisfied with that other guy, because he knows in his bones that she'd be happier with him, for one incontrovertible reason -- because "the truth is, I'm the man who wants you." I don't know about you, but I find that a devastating argument.

Okay, so he's already barged in on the other guy's territory ("I'm gonna keep you company until the morning light") -- that's a mere technicality. The point is, this girl still needs a bit of persuading. And in the currency of pop music, what better persuader is there than a silky-sweet syncopated tenor with just enough grit at the edges to give it raw power?

I love the fact that Amos Lee has stayed just under the radar (depending on where your radar is trained), working with the people he admires, not getting sucked into the celebrity star-making machine. He's got talent up the wazoo, but some instinct of tact and taste --- yes, and maybe of self-doubt, which could also be called self-preservation -- keeps him from cashing in big-time. I admire that. May you stay true forever, Amos.


wwolfe said...

This is a terrific song! It definitely could have been a big hit anytime from about 1973 through about 1978 - by, say, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. For now, though, I'll just have to download it and burn it onto my personal "Big Hits of 2013" disc.

Speaking of Nick Lowe, I like his new Christmas album. Some obscure goodies, both old (Boudleaux Bryant's "Christmas Can't Be Far Away," Roger Miller's "Old Toy Trains") and new-ish (Ron Sexsmith's "Hooves On the Roof"). A couple good new originals ("Christmas at the Airport," "A Dollar Short of Happy"). And, best of all, a couple of traditional songs given a lively rockabilly twist ("Children Go Where I send Thee," "Rise Up Shepherd"). Wry, yet heartfelt, as is much of the best from Older Nick.

Holly A Hughes said...

Yeah, Nick's Quality Street is one of the best Christmas albums in a while. Who knew you could dance to "Silent Night"?

Mike Craft said...

I think Chill in the Air is an amazing song: Amos vocals, country instrumentation, and poignant lyrics: "I don't want the keys to our front door, I don't need them anymore". MC

Holly A Hughes said...

Amen. This is an incredibly solid album, track after track of fine songwriting and performance. May be Amos' best in awhile . . . although I say that every time he puts out a new album.