Amos Lee, "Spirit" (Republic/John Varvatos Records)
Amos Lee continues to deliver the kind of laid-back, soulful sound that has set his work apart for years.
He just keeps getting 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 anywhere.
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.
The opener, "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 even 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.