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A pause to reflect: Songwriter Amos Lee took time off from touring to write for his new album, and it shows

Brian T. Atkinson

Amos Lee seamlessly weaves introspective folk ("El Camino") throughout rich soul tapestries ("Clear Blue Eyes"). Accordingly, the Philadelphia-born songwriter drew a wildly diverse crowd at last fall's Austin City Limits Music Festival.

"I'm happy about that," Lee says. "Part of (my) scene is that regardless of what you are or who you are, we all connect to the music. That's why we should be there." The 32-year-old supports his new "Mission Bell" — which recently hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts — Friday at the Paramount Theatre.

American-Statesman: ‘Mission Bell' feels like your most cohesive album.

Amos Lee: I had more time to settle into writing. It was the first time I came off the road for more than a month for the past six years. For me, when I write a new song the impulse is to immediately – like, the day after I write it – get my band out there and play it live. It was good to sit down with these songs and wait a little bit to play them. That gave me a little perspective on what I actually liked and which songs fit together.

How did ‘Windows Are Rolled Down' take shape?

Man, I just keep on circling through women who love music more than they love me. I can't blame them. I think that's how we relate because every woman I date has such a profound love for music. This gal I had a place with in Philly a few years ago wanted to get on the road and pursue her music, so this is a song I wrote for her after she left. It's sort of a farewell. I never got to give her a proper one.

How have you evolved as a songwriter since your (self-titled 2005) debut?

I think I take a little more time thinking about arrangement than I used to. I used to think mainly about the basic composition. Now, I'm much more open to changing things in the studio. Sometimes when I write, it can be very cyclical, and it's nice to have moments in the arrangement that can break that up. In "Windows Are Rolled Down," it helped to have a couple musical diversions to keep the song moving forward.

Is there a lyrical tie connecting these new songs?

I hope there is, let's put it that way (laughs). I like records that have a common bond throughout the whole thing. There are elements of searching in a lot of the songs, and there's a lot of movement and reflection. Reflection is the most common theme to me.

What did Willie (Nelson) bring to (the album's closing) ‘El Camino (Reprise)'?

I love the track ("El Camino") that opens the record. I think it's beautiful, but to hear Willie singing the words and take it to where only Willie can, it brings me to a deeper place. There's just something about what he brings to the music that I can't really quantify, other than just saying, "It's Willie."

Did you ask him to add his guitar solo?

I'm not going to put a whole lot of requests in. You know, I already asked him to be on the song (laughs). Thing is, he's one of my favorite guitar players, so I was really happy to hear him playing it. There are not that many guitar players who, A. I know who it is; and B. (their playing) moves me. I feel like every guitar solo he plays speaks to me. I like loose guitar players. I think he fits that pretty well.

Amos Lee with Vusi Mahlasela