Soundbites: Amos Lee recalibrates; New music from Narrow Shoulders and Big Homie Wes | Music News + Views | Seven days
I recently found a note I had written to an old friend. It was stuffed into the recesses of a coat pocket and forgotten for two years. As I stood in front of my washing machine, holding the washed and smelling letter, I experienced something strange. I read the note twice and couldn’t help but feel a kind of disconnect with my past. I remembered writing the letter, but it sounded like a missive from a stranger.
Have I changed so much since 2019? I do not think so. The content of the letter was mostly about new music, the dog farting too much, my aging parents and Burlington needing a churrascaria again – all topics I still think about daily. Nonetheless, my recent past self felt a million miles away from me here and now. Turns out I’m not the only one in this regard.
Amos Lee is reconfiguring itself as it embarks on its first tour in three years. Fresh off his latest LP, Dreamlandthe Philadelphia folk, soul and rock singer-songwriter returns to the world of live music, which excites him and makes him a little nervous.
“I feel like a different person than I was then,” Lee recently told me over the phone, referring to life before the pandemic. “When you go and go for the better part of 15 years, you get into the rhythm of touring. You’re always spun, so you’re good. Now I’m like, Am I really going to enjoy this? I’m really curious.”
Although his general feelings towards the tour were one of excitement and gratitude, Lee acknowledged that he had had a difficult few years away from the stage. Like many, he has lost people to COVID-19. And his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Lee, who first rose to prominence in 2005 with his self-titled debut on Blue note foldersfound himself withdrawn during the pandemic.
“It was a strange emotional journey,” he said. “I was digging a foundation for myself, but I really couldn’t tell if it was just a bunker back then. I relate to the world differently. I’m invested in understanding people.”
This desire to understand and empathize with others comes from witnessing the polarized nature of today’s American society, Lee said. He believes a growing reliance on social media for discourse is exacerbating societal divisions, from conspiracy theories to pandemic fears.
“We try to connect with each other through platforms that have algorithms that are not designed for healthy interactions,” he said. “Now that I’m sort of back there, I’m more curious. I want to listen and, even if I don’t agree, I want to understand where people are coming from.”
Some of this work started with Dreamland. Lee strives to establish a connection with the listener and deals with themes of isolation on a record full of confessional lyrics, R&B-leaning beats and stark ballads. He said it was ironic that most of the record was written before the pandemic hit. He was dealing with some “basic midlife crisis bullshit” at the time and ended up predicting his emotional future.
“I get lucky sometimes,” he laughed. “I’ll write something and kind of wonder if I really feel that way. But more often than not, I end up feeling that way five years later.”
Lee believes his subconscious thoughts speak through his music. He’s a scattered thinker, he says, often preoccupied with trivial things. Deeper thoughts push through this boredom, unearthing emotional truths he hasn’t yet faced.
These truths center on empathy. “I don’t want to sit here and act like I’m a monk or something,” Lee said. “I’m a shitty, complicated person. But I’m trying to recalibrate how I approach the world.”
As part of this recalibration, Lee is doing something for educators on his coast-to-coast tour: offering teachers free tickets to his shows. A former public school teacher, Lee knows how difficult the past two years have been for educators. So he asks his fans to nominate teachers in their area through his website, amoslee.com, or using the hashtag #ALTicketsForTeachers. Selected nominees will not only receive tickets to the show, but will also receive assistance in purchasing necessary school supplies.
“It’s not a lot,” Lee said. “But I want them to see a show, hear music and do something for themselves. We obviously don’t support the teachers enough and we have to take care of our caretakers. As as a musician, I think it’s a way for me to do my part.”
Lee is on a quest for what he calls “a fundamental understanding of why he does what he does.” Does he make music because that’s what he knows? Or is it to connect with fellow human beings?
“If you listen to the clutter in the cupboards of our culture, there are echoes of doom everywhere,” Lee observed. “What good is it if people resign themselves to death? It’s so easy to be cynical and make cynical music. I don’t want to do that. I want my music to help people to connect with each other.”
He will aspire to do just that on Monday, April 11 at the Flynn Main Stage in Burlington, with the opener Jensen McRae. And don’t forget to nominate your favorite teacher to attend the show.
Narrow shoulders is back with two new songs and a new music video. The artist’s project and Two syllable records co-founder Zach PollakoffNarrow Shoulders’ latest tracks address two ways to deal with isolation.
Advance single “Twelve Acre Fortress” is about conquering isolation by connecting with nature. In the accompanying video, which Pollakoff directed, the New York-based artist Jesse Kovarsky dances through a collection of snowy scenes, all shot on a very cold Vermont winter day: temperatures were near minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Kovarsky’s almost celebratory movements through scenes devoid of any other signs of human life suggest that it is entirely possible to find joy in isolation.
“Living Rurally” is the B-side and forms a thematic link to “Twelve Acre Fortress” but takes the opposite view of isolation.
“He delves into the philosophy of isolation as destruction,” Pollakoff wrote in an email to Seven days. “He counts the malleable minutes of time that pass through a sieve at an uncertain rate.” Side A’s yin yang, “Living Rurally” features the sound of water rushing over layers of drums, then a clock ticking.
The two songs will be broadcast this Thursday, March 31 on all streaming services. The video for “Twelve Acre Fortress” debuts the same day on YouTube.
Rapper from Morrisville via Texas Big Homie Wes released a new single and video. “Answers” is a smooth, nodding jam featuring the producer and MC rapping over a laid-back groove with guest bass guitar from Samuel Guihan. The video shows Wes (real name Wesley Turner) dropping bars as he walks through an abandoned trailer park. It’s a re-debut for BHW: it’s been nearly a decade since he last recorded his own music, in 2013. Back then, he mainly worked on beats for others to rap about, and he hosted a weekly hip-hop show on WJSC 90.7 FM from the University of Vermont North-Johnson. But he puts his own foot forward again with “Answers”. local producer SkySplitterInk mixed and mastered the track, and Vinci visuals and DVP Cinematography shot and edited the video. Check it out on YouTube.