Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

John Varvatos Records B0025335-02-1802
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Amos Lee’s new album, Spirit, is his first for John Varvatos Records after his debut EP on Right at Home, five studio recordings for Blue Note, and a live set for ATO. Lee produced and recorded Spirit in Nashville, at Blackbird Studio and Sputnik Sound. His other records have shown the influences of everything from country and folk to jazz, but Spirit is full-on, gospel-inflected soul. In the very first track, “New Love,” Jaron Olevsky’s piano and Hammond B3 give clues that Lee has moved into a stronger R&B direction, but it’s the Stax-style horns that bring it home.

And it’s not only the horns. Lee has often had a strain of soul in his voice; here, he grabs on to it and doesn’t let go. When, in “Spirit,” he sings “I just wanna feel the spirit,” he reaches deep and, without pushing too hard, makes you feel his romantic and spiritual longing. The song, one of 13 Lee originals here, was inspired by a walk through New Orleans’ French Quarter, where he heard a street singer who was “there to play for people and to be heard.” Lee adopts the persona of the singer, who keeps at it even as people pass him by.

Lee is open not only to influences from soul, but from different eras within soul. He understands soul music as a continuum, and he brings it all together here. When he moves to the 1970s for “Lost Child,” a deep nod to Stevie Wonder, it sits well beside Lee’s other tunes for his convincing vocal and his clear affection for Wonder’s songwriting. His guitar playing, and Olevsky’s clever use of a Moog synthesizer, evoke the sounds of Wonder’s great recordings without sounding dated.


A banjo in the first verse of “Lightly” gives a country feel, but Adam Blackstone’s bass adds the funk, reinforced by the gospel backing vocals. Lee knows that, as much as the blues, country is a part of Southern soul. “’Til You Come Back Through” has a terrific Hi Records groove, and a smooth string arrangement that rests comfortably against Lee’s romantic vocal.

“Wait Up for Me” and “With You” are reminiscent of the acoustic ballads on Lee’s earlier albums, but his impassioned singing ensures that these songs fit naturally alongside the stronger grooves here. In songs like “Highways and Clouds” and “Hurt Me,” Lee’s singer-songwriter chops bring something new to soul music while honoring its traditions.

The musicianship throughout Spirit is first rate. Olevsky has played on most of Lee’s recordings, and his versatility across many styles of music is impressive. Guitarist Luther Dickinson, of the North Alabama All Stars, gives “Highways and Clouds” the dirty edge it needs, and Doug Pettibone also adds tasteful guitar lines throughout. Lee’s own guitar playing is consistently strong, and many of the musicians here, who’ve appeared with Lee on other recordings and in his touring band, are good, distinctive players.

There’s a lot of bottom-end punch on Spirit, and while I would have preferred that it sound less compressed, it’s an honest and heartfelt album of good, soulful music. I’ve enjoyed other discs by Amos Lee, but not as much as this one.

. . . Joseph Taylor