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Amos Lee lets his soulful side shine at the Uptown Theater

Singer and songwriter Amos Lee performed Wednesday at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City.
Singer and songwriter Amos Lee performed Wednesday at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City. Special to the Star

Amos Lee unleashed his inner soul man at the Uptown Theater on Wednesday. An audience of about 1,200 heard the singer-songwriter from Philadelphia accentuate the R&B that has been a subtle part of his recorded output since his first release for Blue Note Records in 2014.

While Lee and his rangy six-piece backing band touched on a variety styles in an outing that lasted more than two hours, the best moments were rooted in soul music.

Lee’s most popular work recalls the 1970s output of singer-songwriters like Cat Stevens. Empowered with a shape-shifting voice that soared with rapturous innocence on gospel material and growled seductively on come-hither love songs, Lee often evoked the soul icon Al Green on Wednesday.

Affectionate covers of two Philadelphia soul classics — Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” and Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” — reflected Lee’s intent. He dedicated “Spirit,” the New Orleans-themed title track of his most recent album, to “all the people who love what they do for no good reason.” The understated funk jam also acted as a love letter to the city’s rich musical legacy.

Lee quoted Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” in a solo acoustic reading of “All My Friends.” The hushed “Baby I Want You,” one of three songs he delivered as he and his band huddled around a single microphone, featured lush doo-wop harmonies. An interpretation of the marijuana-oriented “Vaporize” wouldn’t sound out of place on an album by the Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne.

A few members of the band were multi-instrumentalists. Their versatility added a shifting array of textures. Earthy mandolin and organ solos grounded the swanky gospel of “Jesus.” A forlorn dobro solo underscored the bitter heartbreak of “Chill in the Air.” The group displayed the loose-limbed spontaneity of a jam band on “Cup of Sorrow.” “Flower,” a winsome folk-rock song, was powered by a pedal steel guitar.

During his introduction to his 2005 breakout hit “Arms of a Woman,” Lee recalled an incident that altered the course of his life. As a novice second grade teacher in Philadelphia, he took his wards on a trip to the bathroom.

“I lost all of them,” he said.

The mishap led to Lee’s decision to pursue a career in music. Lee may not have been an effective teacher of children, but Wednesday’s show proved that he’s become a compellingly mature soul artist.

Amos Lee set list

Highways And Clouds; Jesus; Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight; Cup of Sorrow; Spirit; Seen It All Before; Chill in the Air; Black River; All My Friends; Arms of a Woman; Supply and Demand; Tricksters, Hucksters and Scamps; Baby I Want You; New Love; Sara Smile; Pony; Vaporize; Violin; Walls; Flower; Windows Are Rolled Down; Night Train; End of the Road

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