Written on February 18, 2011 – 1:16 pm | by Jaxon Hallahan
The impossible dream: Never in his wildest dreams did Amos Lee imagine his new Mission Bell, a restless album with a gentle soul, would debut at No. 1 on The Billboard 200. “When you dream about things, you think there’s a possibility,” says the 33-year-old folk-pop singer from Philadelphia. Mission Bell, recorded with members of Tucson, Americana band Calexico, topped the chart upon its January release and sold 65,000 copies in its first three weeks.
Before he started a career in music, Amos Lee was a school teacher.
Breaking through: After four albums, the former elementary-school teacher’s music has started seeping into the mainstream consciousness. Mission Bell‘s first single, the breezy goodbye tune Windows Are Rolled Down, is a Top 10 hit at adult-contemporary radio. Lee’s songs — like 2006′s Sweet Pea, used in an AT&T campaign — have been popular with films and TV shows. And an American Idolcontestant recently got to Hollywood auditioning with Lee’s Dreamin’. “I’m always flattered and honored when people cover my music or sing my songs, no matter where it is,” Lee says.
True Colors: Though it never received much radio play, Colors, from Lee’s 2005 self-titled debut, is perhaps his best-known song, having appeared in the film Just Like Heavenand on TV dramas House and Grey’s Anatomy. “It was the story of the girl you’re in love with, who opens up the world to you in a lot of ways,” Lee says of the tune. “When you’re no longer with them, you start doubting that you have the power to do that on your own. You think that somebody else is doing that for you, when, in fact, it’s really just you that’s doing it.”
Goodbye girl: Windows Are Rolled Down, Lee’s biggest radio hit to date, was inspired by “this lady I sort of had grand plans to settle down with,” he says. Unfortunately for Lee, she decided she needed to pursue her musical dreams. “It was a song I wrote a few months after she split, thinking about where she was and what she was going through. You know, wishing her well.”
Among his heroes: Lee has found some of his strongest support from fellow singer-songwriters. He recently toured with one of his musical heroes, John Prine. “He invited me on stage to sing Paradise with him and play his guitar, that Martin he’s had forever,” Lee says.” Bob Dylan once asked Lee to join him and Elvis Costello to perform I Shall Be Released. And Mission Bell features duets with Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams. “These are people I grew up listening to,” Lee says. “These are people whose records I had before I could even play a C chord.”
Room to grow: Lee may not dream of chart-topping hits, but “I want to be able to touch as many people with the music as I can, so I want to get out and play shows,” he says. “I don’t have to sell 10,000 tickets a night, but I’d like to get to a place where everybody in my band, all my crew, me, everybody involved in this thing, is feeling good and feeling comfortable. And has space to move around. You can go for a while and do it and be cramped up and tight and in each other’s laps all the time, but it’s nice to get a little bit more space.”
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