Philadelphia’s Amos Lee headlines the Moody Theater tonight, but he recalls a performance inside Stubb’s when he was just getting started as one of his most memorable local gigs. Like any well-traveled musician, he loves Austin. Still, when it came time to record his latest, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, he chose Nashville.
Some see Mountains, successor to 2011’s best-selling, chart-topping Mission Bell, as a new direction for Lee. It’s definitely more roots-oriented than his past work. He doesn’t feel there’s much difference.
“I don’t really see it as a conscious change in direction,” he says. “Maybe there are some songs that are skewed a little towards what people might call country, but I always struggle with genres. I like so many types of music. I guess a lot of people classify me as a singer-songwriter, but I don’t know. I think what people are hearing is instrumentation. You know, dobro and pedal steel.
“I think when people hear those instruments it’s like coconut. People see coconut in something and think it must be tropical. I understand that. Being in Nashville, some of that came about, but who knows what the next record might be? I love old country. I recently learned I’m going to record with Asleep at the Wheel and do some Bob Wills stuff.
“I love everything. I think Miles Davis said, ‘There’s two types of music: good and bad.” That’s how I feel about it.”
One major inspiration: Levon Helm. Lee was lucky enough to participate in one of the Midnight Rambles the late Band drummer produced at his barn in Woodstock. It affected the young songwriter so much he wrote the title track to the album after Helm’s death.
“I think he was influencing people for quite a long time. The Ramble was special for me, because I never got a chance to see the Band play live. It was just pretty cool to see a guy who gave his whole life to music put his heart and soul into his craft. To stick with it through thick and thin. I’m sure he was struggling for a while after the Band, but to do those Rambles and do the music you love your whole life, that was inspiring to me.
“He stuck to what he thought was true and that’s an important lesson for me to remember. To stay true to the things that inspired you in the beginning. To not be afraid of taking chances, but don’t abandon things that you love because you need to be accepted.”
After Mission Bell went No. 1, did Lee feel pressure to follow it up, or was pressure applied from the outside? The answer was typically self-effacing for the young friend of Willie Nelson.
“No. Obviously you want people to be aware that you have music out there. But there was never any pressure on me during my whole music career. So this is all kind of gravy for me. I never thought I’d get to the level that I’m at right now.”
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