Philadelphia native Amos Lee, who just released his third album for Blue Note Records (“Last Days at the Lodge”), has been quite a busy man since he stopped teaching elementary school and started playing and singing songs professionally. “I haven’t had a regular place to live since 2004,” said Lee when he recently spoke to the Detroit Free Press. “I’ve been traveling and recording and bumming around for the last couple of years.”
With a voice that’s been favorably compared to that of R&B master Bill Withers and folk icon John Prine, Lee’s career has developed steadily since his self-titled debut came out in 2005. He’s recorded and toured with fellow Blue Note artist Norah Jones, appeared on Leno and Letterman’s programs, and recently toured with Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. “Last Days at the Lodge” is an impressive showcase for some of Lee’s best-written songs to date and was produced by Don Was of Was (Not Was).
Last Days at the Lodge
(Blue Note; US: 24 Jun 2008; UK: Available as import)
During your final show on the Dylan tour last year, you and Elvis Costello got to sing “I Shall Be Released” with Bob and his band during the encore at the Chicago Theatre. What was that experience like?
That was the first time I sang with them on the tour and it was nerve-racking for sure. It was intimidating, but it was cool! What a great song to sing and with that band you get into a deep pocket onstage. Both of those guys are well into their 50s and 60s and are still writing amazing and inspiring music.
How did you find yourself working with Don Was on your new album?
The day after the Dylan tour I didn’t have anywhere to go so I flew to L.A. to enjoy summer weather in winter. I was hanging out, sitting in a hotel there and got a call from my manager. He told me that Don was interested in meeting me. So I went to his house and watched some basketball - he’s a huge Pistons fan - talked about music, and soon decided to make the record together.
You’re backed up by an incredible bunch of musicians on “Last Days,” including Doyle Bramhall Jr. on guitar and Spooner Oldham on keyboards. How did this band come together?
I started with the rhythm section. James Gadson is one of the best drummers in the world and was in L.A. and was available. He also played on my first record and is so soulful and honest. I was a fan of (bassist) Pino Palladino’s work with people like (vocalists) Paul Young and D’Angelo, then I met him when I was on tour with Norah (Jones) in 2004. He was also in L.A. when I was there. Spooner Oldham I met last year at a Willie Nelson concert in Washington State; he was playing with the Drive-By Truckers. He’s such an unassuming legend, starting with his work with Neil Young, plus everyone’s heard the Muscle Shoals stuff he played on (Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett). Doyle (Bramhall Jr.) has also got a real soulful way of playing and singing and was someone I first heard at a benefit concert at the Wiltern Theatre (in L.A.).
Did you spend a long time in the studio recording “Last Days at the Lodge”?
The thing that’s crazy is that none of it was rehearsed; we just went in and cut it.
I had a bunch of songs written and would come in the morning and the guys would be there ready to play. I’d go through a song once or twice and then we’d cut it in one or two takes. They’re so adept at what they do, contributed such tasteful parts and made it easy for me.
And how did you like collaborating with Don Was?
He was a positive force in the studio. I can be a little bit hard on myself and he was really helpful in aiding the process. He’s done so many records and is in a good place. Don knows when to say things and when not to; his biggest gift is being a force in helping musicians to play together and create good music.