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Amos Lee Pays Tribute to Past and Present

Oct. 25, 2016
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Photo by Michael Lavine
Amos Lee owes a lot to his previous and longtime label Blue Note Records. In 2005, Lee released his debut self-titled album and in the following eight years released four additional studio albums. In that time, he became close friends with the staff at the label, especially with label president and CEO Bruce Lundvall. Lundvall saw something unique in the emerging songwriter and went out of his way to be a mentor and challenge Lee to become the best he could be.

While Lundvall’s death last year left a physical void for Lee, the songwriter hasn’t forgotten his mentor’s words and continues to let them motivate him—so much so that Lee considers Spirit, his sixth studio album and debut for new label John Varvatos/Republic Records—as a bit of a tribute to his mentor and prior label. “It’s [about] believing in your own message and your ideas and challenging yourself creatively,” says Lee. “That was definitely a big part of this album. Pushing myself to produce and putting together a cast of musicians and choosing the songs. It’s definitely a challenge creatively but that was something [he inspired me with]. So, I feel him and call on him sometimes when I need to. I just felt it was a tribute to him and a lot of people I’ve worked with in the past that have supported me so much.” 

One thing that Lundvall and others have admired about Lee is his singing range that includes his ability to tackle various genres like gospel and R&B. “My influences are pretty diverse. I think you can feel all of them, especially on this record,” Lee says. “There are gospel elements and singer-songwriter stuff and R&B stuff. A lot of melding of those three styles, particularly, is my most impactful musical experiences, just as a performer.”

Lee recorded the album at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Tenn. over a two-and-a-half-week period with a band he assembled. Nashville had a positive influence thanks to its multitude of great musicians and music history, he says. Looking for musicians with the philosophy that the “direction of the album should be influenced by the people playing on it,” he put together a band to record that included in-demand drummer Mark Colenburg and bassist Adam Blackstone.

Unlike previous albums, Lee also took on producing duties. It was a very rewarding experience, he says. “Being the artist and the producer is a lot to take on but it’s also an incredible experience because you’re so in tune with the arranging and creative decisions and there’s really no gap between what I wanted to get out of certain performances and what the vision of the producer may have been,” he says. “So I got to play both roles, which I enjoyed a lot.”

Lee is thankful for the many inspiring experiences he’s had over the years sharing stages with acts like Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. In fact, playing Farm Aid in Milwaukee in 2010 with Nelson is one of his favorite performing experiences. He also says opening for Dylan in 2005 left an early mark on his career how to be an inspiring performer. “The biggest part of that that really stuck with me is how committed they are to playing music for people and responsibility they take to serve their audience and the songs every night and try to keep the music vibrant for themselves and their audience. We’ve always strived to follow in those footsteps.”

“If we don’t take every show we’re doing as the most important thing we’re doing at the time, I feel we’re not serving the audience and that’s my job and my mission,” he continues. “As a person that feels an immense gratitude toward my audience, I want to make sure we don’t overlook anything and that we put ourselves in the right frame of mind to connect with people every night. That’s such a gift, that we get to play music for people every night and affect their lives and try to bring some positivity to their day.”

Amos Lee headlines the Riverside Theater on Saturday, Oct. 29 with Mutlu at 8 p.m.

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