In horn-rimmed glasses and a scruffy beard, Amos Lee looked more like the “cool” young English professor you had in college than a singer-songwriter with a number one album, Mission Bell. The academic look was fitting, actually, because on a recent Saturday night at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, GA, Lee gave a master class in R&B, soul, gospel, blues and folk-rock performance.
The soulful, golden-throated Lee had an easy rapport with an adoring crowd that clearly knew lyrics to most of his songs. Regarding the number one album (Mission Bell had recently hit #1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart — read our review HERE), Lee said he was surprised and that it would “probably never happen again,” but if it did, he made “a stone cold promise” to play a free show in Atlanta. If Lee was seeking gratuitous applause, it sure worked — the place went nuts.
Backed by a tight band featuring Jaron Olevsky on keyboards and Greg Leisz on pedal steel, the set featured nearly every song from Mission Bell as well as “Sweet Pea,” “Southern Girl” and “Night Train” from 2006′s Supply and Demand, “Black River,” “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight,” and “All My Friends” from his 2005 self-titled debut.
A truly transcendent moment occurred when Lee introduced “Stay” from Mission Bell, a song written for a dying friend. Lee volunteers for Musicians On Call, where musicians and singers provide music therapy by visiting bedridden and terminally ill patients. The intro made a beautiful song that much more touching, and transformed the rowdy room into a sanctuary.
Lee on record is soulful enough, but Lee in person is a joy to experience. His mastery of tempo, his showmanship without flash, his command of an audience — and that voice! Lee is truly gifted.
Fellow Philadelphian Mutlu Onaral opened the show with his fresh blend of soul and old-school R&B, then joined Lee’s band as a backup singer.