* Amos Lee — Mission Bell (Blue Note)
The best acoustic soul artists (Bill Withers and Paul Weller among them) know that it is pointless to oversing in a stripped-down setting. In his brief career, Amos Lee has shown the same vocal smarts and skills as the elites, and Lee’s fourth Blue Note album, Mission Bell (out Jan. 25), puts him in line for a charter membership in the executive club. Standout tracks include “Windows Are Rolled Down,” “Flower” and “Hello Again.”
* David Gergen — The Nearer It Was … The Farther It Became (Self-released)
In his bio, singer/guitarist David Gergen talks about the importance of restraint and keeping some air in a recording so it breathes. That’s his basic approach throughout The Nearer It Was … The Farther It Became (out now), a moody set of songs incorporating Gergen’s weary, sometimes wobbly voice and his atmospheric, distant guitar lines. “The Streets I’m Walkin’ ” and “Love Blues #11” are worth checking out.
* Corinne Bailey Rae — The Love EP (Capitol)
Roughly a year after the release of Corinne Bailey Rae‘s second full-length studio album, The Sea, comes this five-song set of cover tunes. The Love EP (out Jan. 25) is an interesting and mostly rewarding mix highlighted by a fun version of Prince‘s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and a sensual, sparse rendition of the Wings ballad “My Love” (during which Bailey Rae successfully channels the late Minnie Ripperton).
— By Chris M. Junior