It’s taken a good dozen years for singer songwriter Amos Lee to embrace his Philadelphia soul roots as fully as he does on new album “Spirit,” which dropped in August 19th.
“It does have a much more soulful direction, much more R&B, but that’s due to the instrumentation and arrangements,” says Lee, speaking from his hometown (“My town,” as he affectionately calls Philly). “The first record was more acoustic because of its elements: just me and an acoustic guitar and drums. I’m not a genre-fied writer. My favorite albums have a thread continuing through the songs that pulls you through the record from start to finish — and that’s a sonic thread. That for me is what makes it a great listen all the way through.”
Steering “Spirit’s” soul-infused sonic thread was Lee himself. After two career boosting albums produced by music veterans
Joey Burns of Calexico (2011’s Mission Bell, which debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200, and spun off a hit single with "Windows are Rolled Down"), and Jay Joyce (Little Big Town, Eric Church, Cage the Elephant on 2013’s “Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song”), the 39-year-old felt confident taking the helm as producer.
“My role was more of facilitating people and bringing together the right musicians to elevate the songs,” he says. “This was so much a collective effort, a collaboration. Overall, being a producer meant choosing the musicians I wanted to work with without anyone in-between us. Picking the right people focused the recording process on the songs. I really did my homework.”
Key in boosting Lee’s confidence in taking on the producer role was fashion designer John Varvatos, who signed Lee to his Varvatos Records, an imprint through Republic Records.
“When I met with John the first time, I knew his clothes but didn’t know the person. But from the first meeting and talking about this record, he was so supportive of me producing. There was no pressure and a lot of freedom; it was super encouraging.
“But much of all this is thanks to my old mentor Bruce Lundvall,” he adds of the late Blue Note Records label head, who passed away in 2015 after a storied career working with artists like Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon, and Norah Jones. Lee’s previous recordings, five albums in all, were all on Blue Note.
“You can avoid a lot of problems if you take the time to tell how the vibe is when you meet someone,” Lee continues. “Also, I try to pull from people I know. I’m a quick judge; I get a feeling and go with it.”
If you go:
Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Boston Opera House
539 Washington Street, Boston
Sept. 10 at 8 p.m.
Radio City Music Hall
1260 6th Ave.
Sept. 11 at 8 p.m.
Academy Of Music
240 S Broad St.
Starting at $39.50, kimmelcenter.org