BLUMENTHAL PAC, AC ENTERTAINMENT & MAXXMUSIC PRESENT
AMOS LEE: My New Moon Tour
430 South Tryon Street
Charlotte, NC, 28202
Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM
Watch & Listen
AMOS LEE: My New Moon Tour
Over the course of more than a dozen years and six studio albums, Amos Lee has continued to evolve, develop, and challenge himself as a musician. With SPIRIT, he makes his biggest creative leap yet.
Most notably, for the first time, Lee acted as his own producer. While his last two albums bore the stamp of strong producers—Joey Burns of Calexico on 2011’s Mission Bell (which debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200, Amazon, iTunes charts, and spun off a hit single with "Windows are Rolled Down") and Jay Joyce (Little Big Town, Eric Church, Cage the Elephant) on 2013’s Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song—Lee finally felt ready to take over the helm.
“I’ve been wanting to produce my own record for a long time,” he says, explaining that he met with numerous candidates before concluding that he should make the move. "What I wanted to provide was a place for musicians to come and feel they were able to express themselves, and contribute in their own voice the way I was able to contribute in mine.”
Lee’s sense of ambition for SPIRIT largely derived from his own live performing experiences in recent years. "Working with folks like the LA Philharmonic and the Mobile, Alabama Community Gospel Choir opened my mind to the possibility of pushing the edges of arrangement away from solitary moments into more collaborative, community experiences," he says. "These were transformative creative opportunities that I never dreamed I would have. To stand on stage and be equal parts participant and observer during these career-defining moments was such a thrill, and I credit the singers, arrangers, and conductors for being so open and generous to the songs."
Along with such monumental events as working with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (a performance which yielded Lee's most recent release, Live from Red Rocks), being a band leader over the last decade has also helped Lee hone his craft as an arranger. "I have a great, great band—the most gentle, genuine, musically open-minded people," he says. "I push them some, but they always respond with creativity, and they inspire me to open things up musically. The versatility of my live band has been a gradual concept I've been working on since I started playing at the club The Tin Angel in Philly in 2002. Back then, we would play three- or four-hour shows. We had horn sections, violins, extended jams, improvisational songs, and whatever else would come from the ether. This current group of players I have on the road with me has re-inspired me to be more open, and less protective. I think SPIRIT reflects this attitude, and the vibrations are very much reflections of the connections.
"I've always loved such a wide range of music." Lee adds, discussing some new influences, which were pulling him toward a new sonic direction. “I’ve been listening to a lot of Schoolboy Q, Drake, the earlier stuff by The Weeknd, and I was wanting to open up that box a little more,” he says. "I've always loved '90s R&B, and now with streaming services, it's so easy to sample so much new music."
To begin the new project, he began assembling musicians who he felt could blend a dynamic yet organic marriage of modern rhythm with classic instrumentation. “I chose the players because I had this instinct and hunger to challenge myself and expand,"says Lee, "and the foundation of this record was built when I chose the rhythm section.”
A performance by the Robert Glasper Trio in Philadelphia led Lee to the realization that Mark Colenburg was the drummer he was looking for. "I remember watching Mark play with such incredible facility and musicality," he says. "He's such a diverse and soulful listener. It was one of those eureka moments, and he elevated everything so much."
Lee had known bassist Adam Blackstone (who’s played alongside artists from Jay-Z to Al Green to Justin Timberlake) for years, but had never worked with him. "Adam is a genius," he says. "He's playing and hearing everything four bars ahead of everyone else. As a first-time producer, he was such a blessing to have." Finding a three-day window when both of these busy players were available, Lee—along his live band's musical director, Jaron Olevsky—went to Nashville. They knocked out ten songs, most in one or two takes, and the core of SPIRIT was formed.
“We had never played with this kind of rhythm section before,” says Lee. “And we came away from these sessions with a hybrid sound I wasn’t able to find in my previous records, but which I’ve always gravitated to as a listener—real gospel-soul-R&B stuff.”
This new energy is most apparent in a song like “Vaporize,” which served as a jumping-off point for Lee's vision of the record. But it was equally important that the album’s more straightforward, “singer-songwriter”-style songs were infused with a different approach. “With something like ‘Highways and Clouds,’ I didn’t want to just do the standard waltz feel that's led by the acoustic guitar,” he says. “I wanted to add dimensions to the arrangements and try to transform them, rhythmically and instrumentally, so that the album was cohesive. The demo versions of these songs are remarkably different from what came out through the recording process, and it was so much fun to explore feels and textures, and bear witness to the transformation.
“The song ‘One Lonely Light’ had kind of a small, short verse with a sweeping chorus,” he continues. “I was always under the impression that if you just write a good song and play it, that’s the magic of it—which is not untrue, but now I also want to think about arrangements that can be impactful in a live setting as well. On my first album, I didn’t think about any of that, and Lee Alexander did such a great job making that album all about me and my songs and voice. But I’ve picked up enough information and experience that now I can inject what I’ve learned from working with so many great producers into helping mold arrangements that are more in tune with what I'm doing live."
Not that it was easy learning the ropes as a producer. “It’s not always magic-making,” says Lee with a laugh. “There’s a lot of grinding it out, with people you maybe don’t have a lot of history with, but it was such a joyous experience, even in those harder creative times."
For Amos Lee, SPIRIT is the fulfillment of dreams and aspirations—musical, personal, and professional—that he’s had for a long time. “All you can ask for as an artist is the chance to create what you hear and feel inside of yourself,” he says. “The performances by everyone gave me such a strong place to draw from, and being more connected to the arrangements made it easier and more fun to sing. For my first time producing, I could not have been luckier—I was able to get into the heart of every single moment of this record.”
"Each song is a little snapshot of something I picked up along the way," says Caitlyn Smith. With her new album, Starfire, Smith has created a true portrait of an artist as a young woman, full of insightful observations, personal revelation, and commitment to craft. Powerful and nuanced, the record marks the arrival of a true musical force.
Though she began her career as a performer, in recent years Smith has become one of Nashville's most celebrated songwriters, with her compositions recorded by artists from James Bay to Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton to John Legend and Meghan Trainor (for whom she co-wrote the multi-platinum duet "Like I'm Gonna Lose You"). Since she returned to the stage on her own, tastemakers immediately began taking notice: Rolling Stone has called Caitlyn's voice "soaring and expressive" and Elle magazine praised her "powerful, affecting songs," and she was named one the "top female vocalists" on Billboard's SXSW 2017 Music Discovery.
"I was wandering around Nashville, writing for other people, but I hadn't figured out what I wanted to say as an artist," says Smith of her new focus for Starfire. "I started writing songs that only I could sing—I would go in with the intention of writing for myself, after years of not doing that. This record is me opening my heart and telling my story."
St. Paul, all those nights that you made me love you
St. Paul,all the trouble we got into
I might run a million miles though a million cities
But there'll never be another one that's ever gonna get me
Like St. Paul
— "St. Paul"
Growing up in the small town of Cannon Falls, Minnesota, Caitlyn Smith was drawn to music at a young age. She put together her first band when she was 12 years old, drafting her brother as the drummer, and started cold-calling local venues for gigs. By the time she finished high school, she was writing and performing so often that her parents asked if she wanted to use her college fund to finance a record; she went on to make three albums before she turned 19.
"I cut my teeth in the Minneapolis clubs," she says. "All those times sneaking into shows was a defining time of my life, it left a huge mark on me. And the fact that there were these great artists who had come from Minnesota—Prince, Bob Dylan, Jonny Lang—made the idea of being a musician more attainable."
Smith moved to the Twin Cities and played everywhere she could, but she had also been told that Nashville was a gathering place for songwriters, so she drove south to check it out. Discovering a city of kindred spirits, she began finding connections in the writing community. "As often as I could afford it," she says, "I would take my Dodge Neon and drive for 14 hours, and started a period of going back and forth between the two cities."
The Starfire song "St. Paul" stands as her tribute to this chapter of her development. "It captures that spirit of how it all started," she says. "Wherever I travel, Minnesota will always be home."
Nashville, you win
Your steel guitars and
Broken hearts have done me in
I gave you my soul
'Cause I wanted it so bad
And now I just wanna go home
This town is killing me
—"This Town Is Killing Me"
"You always have a picture in your mind of how things are going to go," says Smith, "and it always turns out different."
Newly married, she made the decision to move to Nashville full-time, and soon secured a publishing deal.Some country acts started recording her songs, then some country legends, and then artists in the pop world. "The crazy thing about Nashville is you get in a room with people and you have no idea what's going to happen," she says. "Meghan [Trainor] wasn't a star when we wrote that song, she didn't even have a record deal yet, but it ended up working out swimmingly."
Being a staff songwriter has its own complications—"you're putting your art on the line daily and being judged," she notes—but it was a key stage in Smith's ultimate plan. "I took a break from the stage because I wanted to learn how to craft a song," she says. "I saw that you can have the greatest voice in the world, but if you don't have a song, you have nothing. So I took a few years to really study songs and learn how to write."
Eventually, though, she began to grow restless and feel the urge to get back behind a microphone. Trying to re-launch herself as a singer, though, proved more difficult than she expected. "I heard 'no' from every label in town," says Smith. "I remember sitting on my guitar case on the sidewalk, crying after a horrible label meeting, and it started to rain, and I thought 'This will be a great scene in the movie someday.' "
On Starfire, "This Town is Killing Me" encapsulates this period in Smith's journey. "That song is the cornerstone of the record," she says, "the story of what we all struggle with as songwriters."
But you won't burn out this Starfire
There's fearless dancing in my flames
Blow me out, I'll just burn brighter
No, you can't burn out this Starfire
No matter what you say
Smith hunkered down and committed to creating her own music, eventually connecting with producer Paul Moak. Just as things started rolling, though, she found out that she was pregnant with her first child. After lengthy discussions with her husband, she decided to keep working as long as she could. "He said, 'This isn't going to stop you—you can still sing, still move around,'" she says. "So I was cutting the record and still touring through my entire pregnancy. We released a few songs before I had the baby, just to put some music out there, and the response was way more than I ever anticipated."
As she continued writing for Starfire, leading up to and following the birth of her son, Smith found more and more clarity about her ambitions. "When I started, it was difficult to know which parts of my story to tell," she says. "But the more that I did it, the easier it was to identify which pieces to share. The writing became more honest once I finally had my sights on what I was doing.
"After so many years, and so many closed doors, 'Starfire' really is my theme song," she continues. "This is my opportunity to pack up my little gypsy family, take it on the road and keep going."
The twelve songs on Starfire illustrate the range of Smith's storytelling and the striking impact of her voice. "Don't Give Up On My Love," which she wrote by herself in a cabin in North Dakota, is almost painful in its intimacy, while "East Side Restaurant" is more cinematic in its detail and dramatic in its delivery ("That's about a past relationship that was quite toxic," she says, "so I know it's a song people can connect with").
From small-town Minnesota to the stages of Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits festival, Caitlyn Smith is now living a dream she's had from a very young age—and with the release of the mature, masterful Starfire, there's no telling what happens from here.
"The path sure wasn't what I thought it would be," she says, "but it took all those 'no's and this whole journey to find what I needed, after trying too hard to do what other I thought other people wanted me to do. I needed to ask myself, 'What do I love, what can I do that no one else can?' And now I know that I'm not going to give up...This is what I was made to do."