"Listen" from the album Last Days at the Lodge
Bursting with soul-filled enthusiasm and Al Green-styled flair, songwriter Amos Lee's new album Last Days at the Lodge is filled with thought-provoking lyrics — the kind sure to make fans sink helplessly into their seats. Last Days at the Lodge reminds the pop world that just because Hannah Montana is selling out arenas, true artists are still as abundant as ever.
Released in June on Blue Note Records, the new album follows Lee's latest two successful efforts, 2006's Supply and Demand and a self-titled debut from 2005. Produced by acclaimed studio man Don Was, Last Days features Lee on guitar, Doyle Bramhall, Jr. (Eric Clapton) on guitar, Spooner Oldham (Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Drive-By Truckers) on keyboards, Pino Palladino (The Who, D'Angelo) on bass, and James Gadson (Bill Withers) on drums, with several others.
Lee's experience with such studio musicians helped shape him into what he is today. "I don't have one major influence. I'm just learning more by being introduced to more artists and getting into their different catalogs of music," he says. "As I learn more, I can broaden my approach to songwriting."
Lee shied away from songs about his personal life and focused on writing in character instead. In "Street Corner Preacher," He creates a story of a man recently out of jail for good behavior, trying to help make his community a better place. "His faith is his fountain/His love is his neighbor/Back in the neighborhood working for the savior," he sings. Though the story is not autobiographical, he's quick to point out that this is the man he aspires to be, doing whatever he can to help his fellow man.
"The song is about someone who doesn't want a whole lot of credit for doing the work they feel is important," says Lee. "To me, that's a very noble thing."
Before Lee became a musician, he attended the University of South Carolina and lived in Columbia, playing in a menagerie of bands, including Hot Lava Monster. Although he moved back to Philadelphia shortly after to try to become his own "street corner preacher," he still feels S.C. is a home away from home.
"I loved the people I met there and the pace of life," Lee remembers. "South Carolina is somewhere I go when I really want to feel comfortable."
Lee taught second grade in Philadelphia for a while after college, too. "I wanted to give back to the city and do something constructive to help in a small way," he says. While he had an affinity for helping others, he soon realized teaching wasn't his true calling.
While Lee is coy when describing his personal beliefs, the lyrics to his songs provide clarity. On "Jails and Bombs," a song he wrote years ago when he was still teaching elementary school, Lee sings, "Children walking round without the proper means to education/And still up there on Capitol Hill they're passing all this legislation for jails and bombs."
Coming from humble roots himself, Lee expresses his regret that many who are raised in poor neighborhoods are unfairly relegated to poor schools.
"I started to wonder where everybody's money was going, because it certainly wasn't going to these schools," he says. "It's my take on the priorities in this country, and I don't think education is one of them."
Though the number of strings on his acoustic guitar can barely count the years Lee has been writing songs, his life experiences have given him a unique perspective rarely seen in most artists pushing 30. Lee's writing can't be measured in years. Last Days — his third album in three years — marks perhaps the beginning of something remarkable.