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Amos Lee
Sat, May 18, 2024

Amos Lee


“There's a lot of existential stuff in these songs,” says Amos Lee. “If you really listen to what's in between the lines, there's a lot of grappling with your place in the world, grappling with loss.  There's a lot of grappling with the balance between bailing out the boat and rowing at the same time—the experience of writing music and playing songs while trying, as we all are right now, to make sense of a world that feels like it's changing really quickly.”

On his 11th studio album, Transmissions, singer-songwriter Lee continues to expand his sonic range while sharpening his closely observed lyrics that squarely address death, aging, and love. The force behind such acclaimed albums as Mission Bell and Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, ever since his gold-selling 2005 debut Lee has been known for his association with a long list of collaborators and touring partners, from Paul Simon to Zac Brown Band.

For the new project, he craved a return to an old-school style of recording, working with his longtime band in a studio in rural Marlboro, New York that was built by drummer Lee Falco and his dad out of reclaimed wood from an old church (“It’s exactly what you’d think a studio in upstate New York should be,” notes Lee). Playing live on the floor for long hours, in close quarters, they were able to capture the album’s twelve songs in less than a week.

“I really wanted us to be all in the room, making music together, listening to each other and responding to each other,” says Lee. “In this age where you can do everything at home and fly it in, there’s something really beautiful about getting in a room and starting at the top, the drummer counting in the song and everybody just playing. I would call it vulnerability.”

Despite the simplicity of the set-up, Lee also augmented the band’s soulful, folk-funk sound with arrangements that extend the scope of some songs. “I've done a lot of shows over the past few years with orchestras,” he says, “and I wanted to find a way to have miniature moments that could represent those experiences. If you listen to the end of “Night Light,” or “Built to Fall,” there are moments that express those ideas of collaboration and orchestration.”

Transmissions marks only the second time that Lee has produced his own album (following 2016’s Spirit), a daunting challenge even for someone so familiar with the musicians. But he was determined not to overthink or over-complicate the task.

“As a producer, I had to have a clean and clear vision of what I wanted before I went in,” he says. “Especially now that I've done ten albums. I'm not lighting a bunch of candles and trying to conjure the spirit—it's either there or it isn't. And it was there from Day One. We were playing the song “Beautiful Day,” and I thought, ‘Okay, here's a song I have a demo for, but I don't have a full version in mind. I've never played it with anyone, I've never shown it to anybody, and it's a bit of a weird, herky-jerky tune.’ And the bass and drums kicked ass, the guitar playing is really cool—so yeah, I felt it from note one. I was never in doubt.”

The last few years have been wildly productive for Philadelphia native Lee. After 2022’s Dreamland album (which featured “Worry No More,” a Top Ten AAA hit and his biggest single in over a decade), he followed up with two full-length projects paying homage to musical heroes—My Ideal: A Tribute to ‘Chet Baker Sings’ and Honeysuckle Switches: The Songs of Lucinda Williams. He expresses his awe for these two renegade artists; Williams for her incomparable language and Baker for his delivery. “I love songs that have the ability to expose a wide range of emotions in a short song,” he says. “That's what my favorite songs always do.”

The Baker album in particular had a strong influence on Lee as a vocalist. “I didn't grow up singing anything other than what was on the radio,” he says, “and when I started playing guitar, it was John Prine and Dylan and Bill Withers and this classic songwriter stuff, but also all this ‘90s R&B that I loved. I'd never approached what we're calling jazz—the classics, the songbook—and listening to Chet singing and singing along with him was like, ‘Oh, my God, how is he doing this?’ It was like taking a master class in control and where to use your voice. That level of singing, that level of musicianship, was hugely inspirational—you don't have to sing loud all the time. You can be really vulnerable, and soft, and really be at your best.”

Transmissions is Lee’s first release of original music on his own label, Hoagiemouth Records. “It's just a sign of the times,” he says. “Things have really changed for someone like me, and I’m going to adapt. I always wanted to have some kind of small label, so it's a cool opportunity.” (The imprint is distributed through the Thirty Tigers company, which Lee is especially excited about since he and president David Macias are friends through fantasy baseball.)

Fresh off of some dates with Willie Nelson and heading into a co-headlining tour with the Indigo Girls, Lee notes that his attitude about being embraced by his peers and his idols has transformed over the years, and that his gratitude deeply informs the emotions throughout Transmissions.

“I just appreciate everything a lot more now,” he says. “When you're younger, you get it, but you don't really get it because you're like ‘Oh, cool—my first tour ever and I'm opening for Bob Dylan? Cool.’ Or Norah Jones, the biggest artist in the world, bringing you out right off the street. How do you appreciate that? I was just sort of clueless, honestly. Not out of malice, but you have no context.”

“So now I'm just grateful to have a career,” he continues. “I'm grateful to be asked to share the stage with folks who I respect and admire and love and want to learn from and want to support. Now it’s about really being present while it's happening and knowing that this is not promised, none of this is destiny. It's a lot of chance. So, I’m making sure to really enjoy and appreciate all these opportunities.”

Julia Pratt


Julia Pratt is a 22-year-old singer-songwriter based in Philadelphia. A songwriter at heart, Pratt’s music blends pop, jazz, R&B and folk, with dashes of electronic production. Grounded in poignant lyricism inspired by songwriters such as Kevin Garrett, Amy Winehouse, and Hozier, Pratt writes about family, love, betrayal, and grappling with the concept of “the self.” She kicked off 2023 opening for artists such as Brandi Carlile, Hozier, The Head and the Heart, the Revivalists, and Adam Melchor, embarked on a national tour opening for Australian ambient pop artist Vancouver Sleep Clinic, and was runner up for NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour in Philadelphia. Pratt is gearing up for a series of releases throughout in 2024, starting with her brand-new EP Two To Tango (Out 10/27). It features “A Little Love,” her hit collaboration with Matt Quinn of Mt. Joy.


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