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. Lee's sense of ambition for Spirit largely derived from his own live performing experiences in recent years including working with the LA Philharmonic and the Mobile, Alabama Community Gospel Choir. 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. 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. Finding a 3-day window when both of these busy players were available, Lee – along with 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 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."
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."