Pop singers turning their attention towards the classic American Popular Songbook has long been a thing, but it’s not something you’d readily expect from singer/songwriter Amos Lee who has made his name with his rustic, countryfied folk and earthy R&B. Nonetheless, Lee embraces the standards album with his warmly delivered 2022 homage My Ideal: A Tribute to Chet Baker Sings. A longtime, if somewhat quiet fan of the iconic trumpeter/vocalist, Lee particularly gravitated to Baker‘s lyrical jazz recordings while in lockdown over the COVID-19 pandemic. There is an affinity between the two vocalists with Baker‘s laidback style a nice fit for Lee’s own melodic, largely unadorned approach to singing. Sometimes pop singers, and especially artists unaccustomed to tackling the precise nature of many jazz standards can sound stiff or pitchy. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Lee and he nicely settles into tracks like “That Old Feeling,” “My Buddy,” and “My Ideal.” Interestingly, while you can hear how much Baker‘s work has affected Lee, with his tenor lilt and R&B-music influences (the late-Bill Withers is a major touchstone) he often evokes the traditional pop and soul style of Smokey Robinson. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded himself by a stellar group of jazz musicians from his hometown of Philadelphia, including trumpeter/pianist David Streim, bassist Madison Rast, and drummer Anwar Marshall, all of whom offer lovely backing and accents to Lee’s vocals. What’s particularly nice is that while some of the arrangements draw direct inspiration from Baker‘s recordings (especially the classic 1954 Chet Baker Sings album), they offer just enough room for Lee to carve out his own space within each song. It’s a vibe perhaps best expressed on his rendition of “My Funny Valentine” (arguably the song most associated with Baker) and which he tweaks here as “My Funny Valentine” “For Oskar and Eli” in a nod to the main characters from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson‘s acclaimed 2008 vampire film, Let the Right One In. At once dark and moody, yet imbued with the yearning romanticism of youth, the song, as with much of My Ideal, conjures an entracing atmosphere that’s hard to shake.

(By Matt Collar – All Music Guide)

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