Amos Lee came into my life just in time to rock my second child to sleep, making it easy to mark the eleven years since Arms Of A Woman hit me in the heart like a slow motion bullet. Since then, the soulful singer-songwriter has become a go-to guy for series of strong tribute albums and covers collections – making him an easy candidate for a Cover Lay Down artist feature that gathers in 18 of our favorite live and studio covers for a set that’ll tear your heart out.
Lee was a latecomer to the craft; he received his first guitar in college, and worked as an elementary-level schoolteacher and bartender in his native Philadelphia before deciding to dedicate his life to music at the age of 25. But once determined, his rise to fame was rapid and resoundingly celebrated. Early opening act gigs for BB King and Mose Alison and a demo submission to jazz-and-more label Blue Note Records in 2004 led to tours with Norah Jones and Bob Dylan the following year, and a self-titled debut whose songs found rapid-fire exposure on a multitude of House, ER, Parenthood, and other TV shows and commercials known for showcasing the new, hip indie marketplace.
No one was surprised when Lee’s 2011 album Mission Bell, with its stark landscape, restless momentum, and guest appearances from Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Priscilla Ahn, Pieta Brown, and Sam Beam debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. The man had made his mark, and subsequent tours with everyone from Merle Haggard to Adele would only cement his influence in the post-millennial world.
In many ways, though, Amos Lee’s rapid rise was foretold by his music. It’s hard not to love Lee upon first listen; arguably, the man has more soul in his vocal delivery than anyone else in his generation and genre. But dig deeper, and his true mastery becomes clear: there’s subtle, nuanced delivery and arrangement here, and a deceptively simple way with a lyrical hook that owes as much to the formative influence of early acoustic soul balladeers like Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers as it does to the muddy, raw Delta bluesfolk at the heart of the American folkways, the gritty sounds of John Prine, and the sparse contemporary jazzfolk sounds of Joni Mitchell and labelmate and contemporary Jones.
The result is consistent: an elegantly honest portrayal of deep emotional truths, crisp and achingly framed, in clear, deep, and emotional performance; a collected output of six full-length albums of original songs, one live album, that original Blue Note EP, and a sequence of guest appearances and one-shot coversongs that evades easy genre categorization even as it stands out for its originality, its craftsmanship, and its soul.
So click below to download studio covers of John Prine, Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and Madonna, an iTunes session Neil Young/Ween two-fer, collaborations with The Wood Brothers and Calexico and Iron & Wine, and the best, clearest live covers we could find, from soulful solo takes on Sam Cooke and The Commodores to majestic in-concert versions of November Rain and Fat Bottomed Girls. Come, see why Amos Lee’s interpretation of John Denver’s Some Days Are Diamonds, originally shared here in 2013, is the single most played song in our collection. Come, fall back in love with us.
- Amos Lee: Some Days Are Diamonds (orig. John Denver) 
- Amos Lee: Speed of the Sound of Loneliness (orig. John Prine) 
- Amos Lee: Little Bit of Rain (orig. Fred Neil) 
- Amos Lee: Buenas Tardes Amigo (orig. Ween) 
- Amos Lee: American Tune (orig. Paul Simon) 
- Amos Lee: November Rain (orig Guns ‘n Roses) 
- Amos Lee: Are You Ready For The Country (orig. Neil Young) 
- Amos Lee: Christmas In Prison (orig. John Prine) 
- Amos Lee: A Change Is Gonna Come (orig. Sam Cooke) 
- Amos Lee: Like A Virgin (orig. Madonna) 
- Amos Lee: Fat Bottomed Girls (orig. Queen) 
- Amos Lee: Easy Like Sunday Morning (orig. The Commodores) 
- Amos Lee: Lovely Day (orig. Bill Withers) 
- Amos Lee: Zombie (orig. The Cranberries) 
- Amos Lee and The Forest Rangers: Boots Of Spanish Leather (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Amos Lee ft. Calexico: Seven Spanish Angels (orig. Willie Nelson & Stevie Wonder) 
- Iron & Wine, Calexico, Nick Lowe, Glen Hansard, Kathleen Edwards, Beth Orton, Amos Lee: Hallelujah (orig Leonard Cohen) 
- The Wood Brothers ft. Amos Lee: Angel (orig. Jimi Hendrix) 
Always ad-free and artist-friendly, Cover Lay Down has been exploring the folkways through cover songs since 2007 thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Coming soon: our annual Fall fund drive, plus a look at new tribute albums and compilations from the end of the summer!