Amos Lee 'Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song' - Blue Note

Continuing to use the storytelling precepts and musical platform of country music, Amos Lee impresses on this new album. He develops his writing to encompass themes of isolation on Stranger, of separation with Chill in the Air and in the closing acoustic Burden, wherein he offers the statement that he never wanted to be a burden to those who cared for him. It is a poignant piece of understated humility that has an appeal to anyone who has ever felt that feeling.

Elsewhere the production by Jay Joyce explores where the music can be taken. There are a number of guests here, who, strangely, aren't credited on the sleeve. For instance the Dobro playing featured on several tracks comes from Jerry Douglas. Another notable guest adding his swampy, bluesy guitar is Tony Joe White.  Lee's band also appears and they play as often only a seasoned road band can do. They are Jason Olevsky on keyboards, bass player Zach Djanikian, drummer Freddy Berman and guitarist, steel and banjo player Andy Keenan.

But it is the songs that make or break an album like this and there are many here that have a strong resonance. Dresser Dreamer is a subtle song of past memories with just acoustic guitar, percussion and bass which gives a sense of the song’s inner regret. By way of contrast Indonesia has a more contemporary singer-songwriter feel, but both are served by Lee's soulful and at times pained delivery, that show him to be a striking vocalist as well as writer. As often with a Jay Joyce production there are experiments and High Water with his harsh rhythm, harmonica and distorted vocal seems at odds with some of the other material but is nevertheless an interesting statement that some will love while others will move quickly on.

The Man Who Wants You has a soulful funky roots sound, while Loretta fits nicely alongside the direction of the album's different aspects. Plain View opens with a banjo and is a tale of living in glass boxes and the angry trolls who look in. The title track has Patty Griffin adding harmonies to one of the album’s best songs, one that builds a quiet intensity on a tale of integrity and contemplation.

Griffin is not the only renowned vocalist on the album as Alison Krauss is featured on Chill In the Air, a tale of the complete breakdown of a relationship that finds the man not wanting to see his partner again and telling her if she feels a chill in the air that it is his spirit; a kiss-off song with a haunting quality that makes it a stand-out on what is arguably the best album of Lee's career to date. It will be worth watching to see where Amos takes his music next, as he could continue with this mix of sounds or, equally, explore any of the tributaries that form his river of song.