South by Southwest 2005: Amos Lee at Austin Music Hall in Austin

Blue Note records drew snickers and jeers from jazz purists in 2002 when they took a chance on an artist named Norah Jones, who was surely not your father’s jazz crooner.

The bet paid off massively with many millions of CDs sold, loads of awards and a fiscal windfall for the label. Blue Note’s 2005 mold-breaker is talented newcomer Amos Lee (bio | CDs – DVDs – books), who seems poised for major notice in the months to come. Lee’s SXSW showcase took place Friday night (3/18) at the Austin Music Hall.

Like Jones, Lee brings no traditional jazz flavors to the table, instead mining a rich well of country-folk-tilted balladry poured through his silky, soulful voice.

Lee taps into a simple earthiness laid sparse and naked, with a Lyle Lovett-like sensitivity and a Bonnie Raitt-flavor of world-weary grit. That recipe can generate some goose-bump moments when he wants to soar, as in mid-set highlight “Arms of a Woman” and set-closer “All My Friends.”

The future for Lee is busy. Coming off of an opening-act stint on Norah Jones’ European tour, Lee will spend the next two months opening for Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard on their theater tour.

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