Soundbites: Amos Lee Recalibrates; New Music From Narrow Shoulders and Big Homie Wes | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Soundbites: Amos Lee Recalibrates; New Music From Narrow Shoulders and Big Homie Wes

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Amos Lee - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Amos Lee

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 laundered and fresh-smelling letter, I experienced something odd. I read the note twice and couldn't help but feel a sort of disconnect from my past self. I recalled writing the letter, but it read like a missive from a stranger.

Have I changed that much since 2019? I don't think so. The contents of the letter dealt mostly with new music, the dog farting too much, my parents getting older and how badly Burlington needs a churrascaria again — all topics I still think about daily. Nonetheless, my recent past self felt a million miles away from me in the here and now. Turns out, I'm not alone in that regard.

Amos Lee is in the middle of reconfiguring himself as he sets out on his first tour in three years. Fresh off of releasing his latest LP, Dreamland, the folk, soul and rock singer-songwriter from Philadelphia is reentering the world of live music, something he is both excited and a little nervous about.

"I feel like a different person than I was then," Lee told me recently by phone, referring to life before the pandemic. "When you're going and going for the better part of 15 years, you get into the rhythm of touring. You're always spun out, so you're good. Now, I'm like, Am I going to actually enjoy this? I'm genuinely curious."

Though his general feelings toward the tour are excitement and gratitude, Lee acknowledged that he's had a rough few years away from the stage. Like many, he lost people to COVID-19. And his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Lee, who first came to prominence in 2005 with his self-titled debut on Blue Note Records, found himself turning inward 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 at the time. I'm relating to the world differently. I'm invested in understanding people."

That desire to understand and empathize with others comes from witnessing the polarized nature of current American society, Lee said. He believes a growing dependency on social media for discourse is exacerbating societal divides, from conspiracy theories to pandemic fears.

"We're trying to relate to one another through platforms that have algorithms that are not designed for healthy interactions," he asserted. "Now that I'm sort of back out there again, 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 that work started with Dreamland. Lee strives for connectivity with the listener and deals with themes of isolation on a record full of confessional lyrics, R&B-leaning rhythms and stark ballads. He said it was ironic that most of the record was written before the pandemic began. He had been dealing with "basic, midlife-crisis bullshit" at the time and ended up predicting his emotional future.

"I get sort of lucky sometimes," he said, laughing. "I'll write something and sort of wonder if I actually feel that way. But more often than not, I end up feeling that way five years later."

Lee believes his subconscious thoughts are speaking through his music. He's a scattered thinker, he says, often preoccupied by trivial things. Deeper thoughts push through that tedium, unearthing emotional truths he hasn't yet faced.

Those truths center on empathy. "I don't want to sit here and act like I'm a monk or something," said Lee. "I'm a fucked-up, complicated person. But I'm trying to recalibrate how I approach the world."

As part of that recalibration, Lee is doing something for educators on his coast-to-coast tour: giving teachers free tickets to his shows. A former public school teacher, Lee knows just how hard the last two years have been on educators. So he's asking his fans to nominate teachers in their area via his website, amoslee.com, or by using the hashtag #ALTicketsForTeachers. Selected nominees will not only get tickets to the show but also receive help buying necessary classroom supplies.

"It's not a lot," Lee said. "But I want them to get to a show, hear some music and do something for themselves. We obviously don't support teachers enough, and we need to take care of our caretakers. As a musician, I think this is a way for me to do my part."

Lee is on a quest to find what he calls "a foundational understanding of why he does what he does." Is he making music because it's what he knows? Or is it to connect to his fellow humans?

"If you listen to the clutter in the cabinets of our culture, there are echoes of doom everywhere," Lee observed. "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."

He'll aspire to do just that on Monday, April 11, at the Flynn Main Stage in Burlington, with opener Jensen McRae. And don't forget to nominate your favorite teacher to catch the show.

Bite Torrent

Zach Pollakoff - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • Zach Pollakoff

Narrow Shoulders is back with two new songs and a new music video. The project of artist and Twosyllable Records cofounder Zach Pollakoff, Narrow Shoulders' latest tracks touch on 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, New York City-based performer Jesse Kovarsky dances across a collection of snowy scenes, all shot on a very cold winter day in Vermont: Temps were near negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Kovarsky's almost celebratory movements across scenes devoid of any other sign of human life suggest that it's entirely possible to find joy in isolation.

"Living Rurally" is the B side and forms a thematic bond with "Twelve Acre Fortress" but takes the opposite view on isolation.

"It delves into the philosophy of isolation as destruction," Pollakoff wrote in an email to Seven Days. "It counts the malleable minutes of time as they pass through a sieve at an uncertain rate." The yang to the A side's yin, "Living Rurally" features the sound of rushing water over layers of drums, then a ticking clock.

Both tracks premiere this Thursday, March 31, on all streaming services. The video for "Twelve Acre Fortress" debuts the same day on YouTube.


Big Homie Wes - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Big Homie Wes

Morrisville-via-Texas rapper Big Homie Wes has released a new single and video. "Answers" is a mellow, head-nod jam featuring the producer and MC rapping over a laid-back groove with guest bass guitar from Samuel Guihan. The video features Wes (real name Wesley Turner) dropping bars as he skulks around 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. In that time, he has worked mostly on beats for others to rap over, and he's hosted a weekly hip-hop show on Northern Vermont University-Johnson's WJSC 90.7 FM. But he's again putting his own foot forward 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.