When you get to track 3, the beautifully tender "Arms of a Woman," on Amos Lee's self-titled debut, you know that this singer-songwriter-guitarist is something special. It's a spare, acoustic-guitar-driven ballad that, with its rootsy blend of country, gospel and blues hues, you could almost imagine Ray Charles crooning in his heyday. Lee, a 27-year-old former schoolteacher from Philadelphia, imbues that instant classic and the rest of this eclectic, stripped-down disc with an old soul akin to another twentysomething throwback, Blue Note labelmate Norah Jones. In fact, Lee has opened for Jones on tour, and she backs him up on two tracks here, adding her distinctive piano fills and singing background vocals. Also, Lee Alexander, who was instrumental on Jones's Come Away with Me and Feels Like Home, plays bass on six numbers. But Lee is the real star, from the jazzy funk-folk of "Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight" to the Bill Withers-esque R&B strains of the music-industry indictment "Soul Suckers." With his reedy but rich voice and evocative lyrics ("My soul is as open as the sky/Oftentimes it's just as blue," on "Dreamin' "), this Amos deserves to be famous.—C.A.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Arms of a Woman"