Those familiar with Kensington’s preeminent soul folkie, Amos Lee, and his slate of musky, jazzy recordings since 2004’s eponymous-titled debut are in for a fresh realization on his newest album, 2022’s ‘Dreamland’, and its accompanying hometown return show on April 15 at The Met Philadelphia.
Lee looks at the world left in tatters by the last several years of universal distress and interpersonal heartache, anxiety and depression, and. Just. Lets. Loose.
“I remember feeling free, playing my heart out and full of inspiration then… not a lot of hustle, but certainly lots of heart,” Lee explains at the thought of where his song craft started.
No one titles an album’s first single “Worry No More,” unless he has living with, and healing from, anxiety on his mind. Of that pre-pandemic moment, Lee told Vermont’s Seven Days magazine, that had been going through “basic, midlife-crisis bulls**t” at the time he penned that emotive track and was looking to predict where his struggling mindset would travel.
“I get sort of lucky sometimes. I’ll write something and wonder if I actually feel that way. But more often than not, I end up feeling that way five years later.”
Trafficking in all things connected to “subconscious thoughts” and “unearthing emotional truths,” not yet touched upon, Lee believes that the truths he’s come across, the ones he focuses on, introspectively throughout ‘Dreamland’, center on empathy.
“I don’t want to sit here and act like I’m a monk or something,” Lee said of such rumination. “I’m a f**ked-up, complicated person. But I’m trying to re-calibrate how I approach the world.”
Mind you, all of this self-penned morass, moodiness and re-calibration, in music and lyric, is still done in his reserved cool vocal manner, that hypnotizing Bill Withers-meets-Norah Jones crackle-and-croon, those baritone leaps through clarion clear highs as he does on “Worry No More,” and “Shoulda Known Better.”
The subjects have simply changed since his days of open mics at The Fire on Girard Avenue or Club Nosferatu in the Art Museum area, and of bartending stints-turned-impromptu showcases at Tin Angel in Old City. The stories have shifted since Lee recorded 2006’s ‘Supply and Demand’ and released 2011’s number one-selling ‘Mission Bell’ jam, of what Lee told this writer was, “about escaping but loving where you’re from; allowing yourself to be rooted to everything and nothing.”
Going back to his literal start, Lee stated that his childhood in Kensington was a chill one.
“When I was a kid, a pretty young kid, I didn’t really have tumultuous times,” Lee told NPR. “But I did have this time where I was agoraphobic, and didn’t go outside, wouldn’t leave the house.” Lee says that ‘Worry No More,’ reminds him of that time. “That we’re all agoraphobic for a while. I was trying to do a lot of healing before COVID, a lot of self work. Trying to talk to that little person inside of me and remind them that the world is scary at times, but you have to find the future of it all.”
And that future isn’t always gloom and doom, despite looking at a world of 2022 still steeped in horror and viruses and injustices. If nothing else, on a ‘Dreamland’ Lee song such as “Hold You” he knows you’re crying in the doorway. But he knows there’s something beautiful ahead.
“See you in the doorway/There’s tears on your face/Singing ‘Stand By Me’/Wanna make you see/I can keep you safe.”
“If you listen to the clutter in the cabinets of our culture, there are echoes of doom everywhere,” Lee told Seven Days. “What good is it going to do if people get resigned to doom? It’s so easy to be cynical and to make cynical music. I don’t want to do that. I want my music to help people connect with each other.”