The affable Australian Ben Lee is still preaching to the converted: All you need is love. Not that he’s ever really nicked a Beatles melody in his 12 years of recording, but the 26-year-old is all about the feel-good vibe, opening your heart and surrounding yourself with love and — as he did onstage — flowers. New album “Awake Is the New Sleep” (New West) demonstrates he has fine-tuned his love songs and learned how to set them to light, engaging melodies; in concert, the maturity of the new material left the oldies in the dust.
The charmer on “Awake” — “Catch My Disease” — was saved for last in his 55-minute set. Tune is jokey and spry, with a sing-along chant of “that’s the way I like it” greeting his every thought, from “Beyonce on the radio” to a woman drinking beer with Coca-Cola. Track is already snagging some airplay — disc was released Tuesday — but like so many other performers who tread the feel-good terrain, don’t expect a follow-up.
Lee performed a dozen songs, the new ones more gentle spirited than his aging rock tunes with the new Gotham travelogue “Begin” being the strongest of the lot. He uses a lilting reggae beat as he sings he’ll “gamble everything for love”; gets a bit folkie-boring singing about “the lights of San Francisco”; and goes wide-eyed singing “we’re all in this together.” A smile crosses his face each time he spies a young woman dancing or singing with abandon — it’s the connection he craves and clearly drives him to go on in search of another way to poetically say “I love you.”
Lee will embark on a formal tour in late March that will stop April 19 at the Gotham Knitting Factory and May 5 at the Troubadour.