Before he released the acclaimed album My New Moon last month, before he opened for Bob Dylan in 2005, before he was signed to Blue Note in 2003, and before he picked up a guitar, folk-soul luminary Amos Lee was just a little kid with no clue what was going on. “I have a spotty history with records,” Lee said during a recent phone conversation. “I didn’t have a big brother or anybody like that to hip me to Led Zeppelin when I was 9.”
Sure, Lee picked up a few records here and there. He even pulled the classic ’90s move of joining a CD club and choosing discs at random (thankfully he’s moved enough times that collections agents no longer hound him). But Lee eventually hit the music discovery jackpot during college. “I got a job at Papa Jazz Record Shoppe in South Carolina, and that’s when I really went on a deep dive,” he remembered, detailing his time at one of the largest record stores in the southeast. “I went all in. I just decided to dig deep into classical, psychedelic, jazz.”
In honor of his new record — the latest in a string of heavyweight releases — we talked to Amos Lee about some formative records from his circuitous musical past. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
I was new to the whole CD club thing, like Columbia House, where you’d get 10 CDs for a penny. I remember doing that and getting Legend from Bob Marley and falling in love. I wasn’t really familiar with Bob Marley before that, but I know I must’ve been around someone smoking weed and playing it, then being like, “Oh yeah, that’s good.” Now that I’m older, Marley is one of my five songwriters. He might even be my favorite songwriter.
I cleaned out my friends basement when I lived in South Carolina, and I got a bunch of records. Another Side of Bob Dylan was on my turntable for three months. That was my first Dylan album. I knew about him and the songs that were iconic, but I didn’t know his catalog. I didn’t know Ballad in Plain D. That was kind of it. When [I heard that song], I was like, “Oh shit. I’ve never experienced a connection to a narrator like this before!” There is something so vicious about that song. The whole record is solo, too, so there’s something really intimate about it, and that spoke to me at that moment in my life.
Listening to jazz records on vinyl is a different experience, because it adds another level of depth. With those old single-room recordings, that’s really cool. So many of those Blue Note [Rudy] Van Gelder records are single-room recordings, and you just want to feel like you’re in that space. They’re so perfectly recorded and perfectly played that I can experience that in a deeper way when it feels like I’m in the room. It’s so hard to pick one of those old records, because it feels like I’m doing every other one a disservice. But if I had to, it would be the Andrew Hill album Point Of Departure. That’s the one.
Some records just feel better on vinyl, picking them up and flipping the side. A record that’s been like that for me, which is kind of strange, is Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall & Oates. There’s something that speaks to that era, which was before they got into the poppy stuff. I really love side A of that record. The beautiful thing about vinyl is you can just fall in love with a side. You play the side over and over again. But then you flip it, and you have a brand new favorite song all over again.