Stuart Ryan concludes his study of great modern American singer-songwriters by examining the style of an expert songsmith whose influences include folk, rock and soul.
Stuart Ryan looks at the acoustic guitar style of American singer-song writer Amos Lee.
Amos Lee has released half a dozen acclaimed solo albums, and a successful touring career has seen him open for Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Norah Jones, The Dave Matthews Band and another recent subject of this column, The Avett Brothers.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a degree in English, Philadelphia born Lee spent several years working as a school teacher and then a bartender in various music venues. He started off as a bassist in a local band influenced by classic soul artists Luther Vandross, Bill Withers and Otis Redding, in addition to folk legend Joni Mitchell. It is this amalgamation of sounds that gives Lee his distinctive folk-blues-soul sound, helped along in no small part by his magnificent voice. His recording band has featured Norah Jones and several of the musicians from her group so it’s no wonder that Lee has sometimes been described as “The Male Norah Jones”. More recently he has recorded in Nashville with legends Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas. Lee’s sound has been shaped over the years, starting off with his funk, soul and folk influences, and now including more of a bluegrass vibe.
This month’s study uses a fingerpicking pattern that is typical to many folk singersongwriters including Lee. The alternating bass and chord picking pattern is a must for any fingerstylist, though the challenge is often making a part sound interesting rather than
Amos Lee’s recording band has featured Norah Jones and several of her musicians. No wonder that he’s been called the ‘Male Norah Jones’
generic. Lee’s guitar parts are always in service to the song; sometimes they are very simple supportive ideas while at other times they act more as the song’s hook. Sometimes it can be subtle embellishment to a chord or slightly different picking pattern which can differentiate one singer-songwriter from another and Lee is no different – he has common patterns and chords that you’ll hear in his writing, all of which go to give him his individual sound.
Although this style is fairly straightforward to play there are some finer points to always be aware of – not least maintaining strong timing throughout and keeping every note picked cleanly and clearly, with enough volume on each picking hand finger so everything sounds even. Indeed, developing a balanced sound across all the strings can be one of the greatest but most subtle challenges for any fingerstyle player and gaining this evenness of facility should be a part of all our practise regimes. See you next time when we begin an exciting new series - see below!
Amos Lee: US singer, songwriter and guitarist