Okay, so say you’re a chef. You’ve been cooking for a few years, and you’ve gained a steady following among people who appreciate your simple but flavorful approach to meals. Suddenly you come up with a new recipe that makes you suddenly one of the most popular chefs in the country. What do you do for an encore?
Here, Amos Lee—the soulful Philadelphian folkie whose Mission Bell album last year roared out of nowhere to hit #1 on the Billboard album chart—serves us an amuse bouche. As the Crow Flies is an EP made up of songs that didn’t quite make the cut for Mission Bell. Smart, and the recycling makes it environmentally friendly.
Nothing here is quite as punchy as “Windows Are Rolled Down”, the big hitter from the last record; that’s kind of the nature of follow-up side dishes. But “Simple Things” has a shot; it’s a slide-guitar-heavy slow jam with the economy on its mind. Lee has a haiku-like eye for detail (“When I am returning / ‘Nother day on the job / It’s like a revelation coming home / Seein’ you sleepin’ with the lights on”) and he’s not afraid to wear his big fat romantic heart on his sleeve.
If you hate this kind of thing, you’ll REALLY hate closing track “There I Go Again”. The easy loping groove incorporates funky electric piano, choired soul backing vocals, and some of the sneakiest rhymes around: “I ain’t innocent / I’ve paid my dues and I’ve paid off my tenement / And I ain’t here looking for no sentiment.” By the end of its five minutes, you’ll either be all hands-in-the-air or you’ll be barfing out your car window because you’re a punk-rockin’ hardcase with no kind of human feelings.
It’s pretty easy to figure out why “May I Remind You” didn’t make it to the big leagues: too slow, too draggy, not fleshed out enough. That might also be the case with “The Darkness”, except that its epic feel (urged on by the lovely string arrangement) is so lovely, and Lee puts in a vocal performance that rivals anything he’s done before. I suspect “Mama Sail to Me” might have been dumped because of its title alone, even though its mid-period Bob Dylan vibe actually works pretty nicely.
The consistency of As the Crow Flies makes it more than just a doggie bag; honestly, all these tracks could have found a home on that record without diminishing its quality. Longtime fans will love this amuse bouche, new believers will appreciate it, and people who dislike this kind of music should just move along quickly.