With his laid-back vocal delivery and earthy acoustic songwriting, Amos Lee draws inspiration from soul music, contemporary jazz, and ’70s folk artists like James Taylor. The Philadelphia native first became serious about performing while attending the University of South Carolina during the mid-’90s. After graduating with a degree in English, he taught elementary school before deciding to pursue a music career full-time. A period of waiting tables and bartending followed as Lee honed his songwriting skills. He eventually landed some high-profile gigs as an opening act, including an extended tour with pianist/vocalist Norah Jones, whose bassist, Lee Alexander, agreed to produce Lee’s first album. With Alexander’s help, Lee released the eponymously titled Amos Lee on Blue Note in 2005. The album reached number two on the U.S. Billboard Top Heatseekers chart and several of the tracks — “Colors,” “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight,” and “Arms of a Woman” — were used in various television shows and movies.
Having won a small following for his blend of acoustic funk, folk, and light jazz, Lee returned one year later with his sophomore effort, Supply and Demand, featuring the single “Shout Out Loud.” Produced by former Wallflowers and Natalie Merchant bassist Barrie Maguire, the album entered the Top 100 of the Billboard 200 chart and further cemented Lee’s reputation as a heartfelt, rootsy songwriter. The Don Was-produced Last Days at the Lodge followed in 2008 and found Lee backed by a highly regarded cadre of journeyman musicians including guitarist Doyle Bramhall, Jr., keyboardist Spooner Oldham, bassist Pino Palladino, and drummer James Gadson. The album cracked the Top 40 upon its release and became Lee’s highest-charting album to date.
Buoyed by his success and a growing fan base, Lee was able to gather an all-star group of collaborators to appear on his next record, including Willie Nelson, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, Calexico, and Lucinda Williams. The result, Mission Bell, was recorded in 2010 with Calexico’s Joey Burns producing, and released early the following year. Anchored by the single “Windows Rolled Down,” the album reached number one on both the Billboard 200 and Top Rock Albums charts. The EP As the Crow Flies, featuring previously unreleased songs recorded during the Mission Bell sessions, appeared in 2012.
Lee returned in 2013 with Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, which was recorded in Nashville with producer Jay Joyce (the Wallflowers, Miranda Lambert, Eric Church) and included appearances from vocalists Alison Krauss and Patty Griffin. It also performed well, reaching number 16 on the Billboard 200. The concert album Live at Red Rocks followed in 2015 and showcased Lee performing with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at the famed outdoor amphitheater. In 2016, Lee returned with Spirit, his sixth full-length album and first for John Varvatos Records/Republic Records. Produced by Lee, the album found him combining his love of contemporary R&B and pop with his longstanding knack for earnest, folk-inflected melodicism. Included on Spirit was the single “Vaporize.” ~ Matt Collar