SOMERVILLE -- Amos Lee opened his graceful, laid-back set at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday with "Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight," a beautifully crafted slice of coffeehouse soul. He followed it with "Dreamin'," a bluesy take on coffeehouse soul, and then "Bottom of the Barrel," a country-flavored bit of coffeehouse soul. Like James Taylor and Bill Withers before him -- he often seems a composite of the two -- Lee is a singer-songwriter of limited range and boundless good taste.
In concert, he's as mild-mannered as his songs. Unlike most troubadours, Lee offers scant commentary and few personal anecdotes from the stage. During a 90-minute show that drew from his self-titled 2005 debut and "Supply and Demand," released last month, the artist spoke only occasionally, and often inaudibly, between songs. He performed with his eyes closed. Happily, Lee brought along a crack trio -- one of those savvy units that can play with great restraint and enormous personality all at once -- and they infused his mellow, elegant songs with verve and color.
Drummer Fred Berman used thick mallets to make heavy beats on "Careless," an infidelity waltz, and guitarist-mandolinist-trumpeter Nate Skiles generated the evening's high-drama moments with his muted horn parts on "Sweet Pea," a pretty novelty tune, and "Give It Up," a jazzy late-set jam that featured a dusky solo from bassist (and Amherst native) Jaron Olevsky . The band's sly, surprise entrance on "Seen It All Before" introduced a rare, scintillating sensation amid long patches of pleasantness. For "Black River," more prayer than song, their sound was thin as vapor.
If the White Stripes and the Black Keys anchor the gritty end of the modern-blues spectrum, Lee keeps the flame burning smooth and low on the other side. But his blues roots go deeper than the understated flirtations he's ventured so far. "Truth," an unreleased blues-rocker Lee said he hopes to record on his next album, revealed a rougher, wilder side. Here's hoping it's a sign of things to come.
Lee closed the show with "Shout Out Loud," the first single from the new album. His singing, as ever, was a gorgeous blend of sweet and seasoned. The song, like most of them, was subtly spirited, superbly constructed, and just a little disappointing.
Dayna Kurtz, who's touring behind her new album, "Another Black Feather," opened with a set of stark, soulful folk-pop reminiscent of her mentor, Richie Havens.
Joan Anderman can be reached at email@example.com.