(Should Be) Famous Amos…& other assorted folks

Quote of the Day: “Nothing is more powerful than beauty in a wicked world…” — Amos Lee, “Soul Suckers”

Whenever I watch a new season of a reality show, I’m always curious: Will there be any black contestants? And if there are, I then wonder, well, what sorta black folks will there be? Will it feature a loud, head-swinging sistagirl? Will they go with the extremely effete gay guy? Will they go for Brothaman who can’t keep his eyes or hands off any of the women? Will it be Cosby-kid cuteness? Or maybe a study in mixed-race melancholy? So many types, so little time. Acording to Jeanette Walls, for the next season of The Apprentice, Donald Trump might have the idea: Get one of each, and then put all the black folks on one team. And pit them against an all-white team (which will include the bitchy ball-buster, the fitness trainer with the heart–and pecs–of a male stipper, the middle manager family guy, and the trailer park honey with the heart–and the chest–of a pole dancer). A battle of the races: This was bound to eventually happen in Reality TV land, wasn’t it?…But, wait a minute, now that I think about it, wasn’t this already the final of the first season? When Omarosa sold Kwame out?

But on to real talent…

Has anyone listened to the debut CD of this cat Amos Lee? A publicist from Blue Note Records sent me his CD at the
america office and I dropped it in my bag with the ten other CDs I got in the mail that day and forgot about it. When I’m not in active “music critic” mode, it’s easy to overlook the stuff that’s not so hyped you feel like you’re sick of it before you hear the first note. Besides, I was also knee-deep in HUNG revisions, and when I’m writing there’s usually a prescribed playlist of old school shit that gets me through the days. But then, one procrastinatingly lazy night, I was watching Letterman and this scruffily good-looking brotha was introduced before wowing the audience with the sweetest folky ballad I’d heard since I played David Gray’s last CD. Only this cat had some soul in his stroll. And a sense of humor. I went to my CD shelf, got his CD, finally ripped off the plastic—and now, months later, most of the songs are among the “Top 25 Played” playlist on my iPod and iTunes.

Too many music reviewers–lost, I can only imagine, for a way to describe the ex-teacher from Philly who strums a guitar and sings expertly crafted bluesy/soulful/folky tunes about love and dreams and disappointment and hope–called Lee the “male Norah Jones” (who appears on two cuts on the CD). You know, a person of color who’s not trading in heavy beats and ghetto slanguage. Sure, there are some similarities between the two—the mellow vibe, the “retro” sound, the wistfulness that masks a commitment to sturdy craftsmanship. But Lee—the kind of fine artless singer that can bring tears to your eyes one moment and a smile in the next—is, to my ears, of edgier, wiser stock. A sublime, timeless-sounding debut. Check it out if you can.

Essential Listening: “Arms of a Woman”, “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight”, “Love In the Lies” aka “Lies of a Lonely Friend”

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