by JOEL HARTSE & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & J & lt;/span & une 13 was a beautiful summer day, and Amos Lee was watching his hometown Philadelphia Phillies. They were losing 3-2 to the Chicago White Sox, but they'd finish strong, winning 8-4. It was something of a respite, perhaps, from the things that one imagines might bother him: who will produce his next album, whether it will sell well, whether people will stop comparing him to Norah Jones.
It's true that Jones must have felt an enormous amount of pressure to follow up her first album after selling 20 million records, but Amos Lee might have it even harder. Ever since people began whispering the three little words "male Norah Jones" (take that, Jamie Cullum), expectations have been high. Lee's first album on Blue Note records sold a lot of copies and turned a lot of heads, both for his songwriting chops and association with Jones (she played piano and sang backup). He met the sophomore album challenge admirably with last year's Supply and Demand, a similarly timeless-sounding record of jazz and folk influences. And, to be honest, there isn't a song on it that doesn't sound like it couldn't be performed by Ms. Jones. But as Amos Lee prepares for his junior release, is he moving forward? Is the pressure off, has he relaxed?
"I don't think 'relaxed' would be a word I would use with it," he said from his seat in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank ballpark. "The second record was really cool. I guess I would use the word 'growing,' but that's kind of a shitty word. I'm learning as I go. I feel real fortunate to even be able to make a third record."
Lee and his touring band (also his studio group) are writing songs for their next album. "We write all the time," he said, even on the road. "I try to write as many songs as possible."
Lee's songs are free and breezy, even when they're downers; Supply and Demand's "Night Train" plods along pleasantly as Lee sings about "drinking coffee / taking cocaine / trying to get us safely home," and the tender closer, "Long Line of Pain," is about as melancholy as it sounds.
It's not all moping around, though; Lee's band cuts loose on the up-tempo "Shout Out Loud" and other tracks, especially in concert.
"It sort of comes alive for me a little bit more," Lee said. "You know, on the record you plan it out and you still play a lot of it live, but when we play it real live, the hardest thing to do is to keep the tempos under control."
After his Spokane show, Lee will head to the Gorge to take part in Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic. Ever the wide-eyed wonderer, Lee's a little unsure how he got invited to participate. "I don't know!" he said. "How does Willie Nelson operate?"
When the home team's winning a day game, though, you don't worry about stuff like that.
Amos Lee at The Big Easy on July 3 at 8 pm. $15. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.