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Man on a Mission

There's more to singer-songwriter Amos Lee than just his pitch-perfect voice.

It's easy to get hung up on Amos Lee's prodigious vocal talent. His pitch-perfect voice has just enough snarl matched with dollops of delicacy to make any song he's a part of sound good.

Lee reaches deep down for those introspective moments, pummels you with glam-metalesque bravado when necessary and scratches your melancholy itch with sandpapery soul. He sings instinctually, knowing when to employ the right timbre to capture whatever it is he's trying to make you feel.

There is some premeditation behind what he does, but for the most part, Lee lets the song lead the way.

The desert air agrees with Amos Lee on the Philadelphian's new LP Mission Bell.
Harper Smith
The desert air agrees with Amos Lee on the Philadelphian's new LP Mission Bell.

"Kind of the same way a lot of athletes say they just let the game come to them — that's what I try to do with my voice," he says. "I look for the openings and go with it."

However, he hasn't built his career on his vocal gift alone. Lee can flat-out write a song. Meandering from blues and folk to outright soul and R&B, his work has a relentless allure, fiery between-the-sheets escapades and road-weary ditties about lost love alike.

Lee's goal is to write great, enduring songs. While he doesn't write continually like some musicians do, he constantly thinks about new songs. It is a way for him to translate the surrounding world.

The tracks for his third album, Mission Bell, were the result of two years of experiences. The lyrics are not completely confessional, but songs such as "Violin" offer a peek into his emotions.

"Writing about the way you feel and what you see and do comes the most naturally," he says.

When asked whether he'd ever use his honey-licked vocals to bust out a Solomon Burke-style soul album, which he easily could do, Lee's answer is telling.

"I'd do that if the songs were great...I'm not into any sort of kitsch, old-school vibe just for the sake of doing it," he says. "The reason people like that old stuff is because the songs were really great."

On Mission Bell, released last month, Lee employs the services of multigenre combo Calexico, traveling to the group's Tucson studio and recording with them as his backing band. Calexico did a similar thing with Iron and Wine's Sam Beam a few years back.

"I first met those guys a few years back [while] touring in Austria, and I've been a big fan ever since," he says. "When the opportunity to do this together came about, I was really excited."

While Lee wrote and arranged the tracks, having a cohesive group to work with gave the album a decidedly more energetic feel than its predecessors. Mission Bell is definitely a solo record, but it doesn't feel like a guy alone in his room with nothing but a guitar, a keyboard and a four-track.

"I wouldn't say we just sat there and jammed until the songs sounded right, but everyone had input," Lee says. "We all contributed to making the record the best it could be."
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NEWS FEED

For the past few months, rumors have been floating around Houston that local rap icon Scarface is behind bars. Those rumors were confirmed — finally — last Thursday by a Montgomery County Jail representative who spoke to hip-hop blog XXLMag.com. According to their reports, Scarface was arrested on Oct. 13, 2010, for failure to pay child support and has been locked up this whole time. The rapper, whose given name is Brad Jordan and is routinely cited as one of the best (if not the best) lyricists in hip-hop history, is in jail for incidents in Harris, Montgomery and Fort Bend counties, and is also being held for a federal case, although those specific charges are as yet unknown. Montgomery County Jail records listed Scarface's bond at $50,000, which, according to hiphopnewsdaily.com, he cannot afford to post.

 
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