Record Reviews


Album: “Spirit”

Grade: A

Amos Lee continues to deliver the kind of laid-back, soulful sound that has set his work apart for years. He just gets better at it.

On his latest album, “Spirit,” Lee is in his sweet spot, one that has long prompted one of the more interesting “Who does he sound like?” discussions.

The truth is, he doesn’t sound like anybody but Amos Lee — though for years now he’s turned out music wonderfully evocative of singers like Al Green in his 1970s-era prime and vintage, mellow Isley Brothers.

With his new record, the first he has produced himself, Lee doubles down on his distinctive style, delivering a fuller sound without abandoning the elegant simplicity that set him apart in the first place. The best musicians know when not to play, and none of the added touches violate that rule.

“New Love” is resplendent with understated gospel inflections and brass reminiscent of the late, great Memphis Horns, who of course played behind Green, Otis Redding and other legends. And Lee’s gentle acoustic playing sets him apart from those greats as he follows the silky trail they blazed.

That comes through beautifully on a striking ballad called “Lightly,” which Lee builds around a surprisingly elegant banjo riff, and on a tender but morose breakup song called “Vaporize.”

Both showcase Lee’s ability to explore new territory without abandoning the essential goodness of what he’s been doing for years. And they elevate an album that broadens the range of a singer who will never be mistaken for anyone else.

Dolly Parton

Album: “Pure & Simple”

Grade: B

The list of country legends able to do whatever they want musically without alienating their fans isn’t long: Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and a few others.

On her new album, “Pure & Simple,” Parton tests the limits of that license with an odd mix of cheating songs and fairly predictable elegies to endless love she wrote. The sound is stripped-down and agreeable, but the words don’t break new ground — and some are downright cloying.

There are a couple of songs you won’t be able to un-hear — “I’m Sixteen,” a parade of clichis about feeling young when you’re old, and “Head Over High Heels.”

But, Parton remains impossible to dislike. So listeners with tempered expectations and an endless love for Dolly will get what they came for here. There’s enough of her essence to satisfy the most devoted fans, and maybe that’s OK.

Arc Iris

Album: “Moon Saloon”

Grade: C

The songs on “Moon Saloon” are prone to frequent, unpredictable changes in the meter, tempo, tune and instruments, making for music herky-jerky.

Fetching but fleeting melodies ride a wave of guitars, horns, strings, keyboards, banjo, pedal steel, layered wordless vocals and electronic whooshes and bleeps. At one point the percussion sounds like dinner utensils being stacked.

The whole thing could have been a disaster, but Arc Iris pulls it off.

The arty power trio includes singer Jocie Adams, keyboardist Zachary Tenorio-Miller and drummer Ray Belli, and their second album is best described by the title of the opening cut: “Kaleidoscope.”

It helps that Adams, a former member of the Low Anthem, is a versatile soprano.

–Scott Stroud, Associated Press