Supply and Demand, the second studio album from Philadelphia native Amos Lee, illuminates his growth from emerging singer-songwriter to established recording artist. From the sparse, powerful, family elegy "Long Line of Pain," to the country-r&b flavored title track, "Supply and Demand," this album is rich with big league songwriting, compelling musicianship and captivating vocals.
To follow up his well received 2005 debut, Lee retraced his roots, teaming with producer Barrie Maguire, with whom Lee worked on his earliest studio recordings in 2002. Their latest collaboration, recorded between Philadelphia and Los Angeles, showcases Lee's multifarious writing style with dynamic arrangements and a well suited sonic palate set forth by engineers Shane Smith and Jim Bottari.
When asked if he felt the pressure typically associated with sophomore albums, Lee explained, "People are always asking what's next, but as a songwriter it can be a bit troubling to get too far ahead of yourself. Most of my life these days is spent either performing songs I've already written, thinking about songs that are half finished, or starting new tunes. I'm aware of people's expectations, but my job is to serve the song, and that's what I focus on."
The bulk of the material on this album was penned either backstage, onstage at soundchecks, or in hotel rooms, as Lee and his band have spent the better part of 3 years on the road, sharing the stage with such legendary artists as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Merle Haggard, and John Prine. "When guys like that are sitting at the table, you sometimes don't even want to touch your fork, but we showed up every night and stood behind the songs the best we could, and for the most part had a good time doing it."
Lee's band gives some sizzle to the opening track, "Shout Out Loud," with drummer Fred Berman, bassist Jaron Olevsky, and guitarist Nate Skiles playing with poise and passion. "The band and I would spend anywhere between 12 to 20 hours a day either working on parts, coming up with arrangements, or just talking about music that we felt might relate to what we were trying to do. I feel very fortunate to be involved with musicians who truly dedicate themselves to their craft."
The work ethic of this band is apparent, as their intangible, almost innate compliment to Lee creates a splendid atmosphere for these songs to come to life.
In addition to Lee's touring band, studio musicians Pete Thomas, Greg Liesz, and Chris Joyner added vital and tasteful elements to the recording process. On the soul-stirring "Skipping Stone," Joyner plays a gorgeous, churchy Hammond B3, setting the stage for one of Lee's strongest vocal performances. "That was just me and Chris sitting in a room playing together. Me on guitar and singing, him on the organ, we had done a few takes a couple days before, but that night it got right."
What makes this album such a satisfying listen is its balance. There are stark, introspective moments, poignant moments of narration, and streams of light that lift the listener just as the darkness begins to settle. "Sweet Pea," which is a swingin' little number, features Lee on vocals, guitar, 'vocorgan,' and drums. Lee chuckles as he explains the process of this recording, "We didn't really think much about that tune until Barrie's friend John Hughes showed up one night with his uke. I had John re-teach me the chords, which I'd forgotten, and we went in and laid it down. After we finished up, we all stepped out to a bar around the corner. I came back a little looser than I left, and played the drums, more as a joke than anything, but when I came to the studio the next day, Barrie told me the take sounded good... I was shocked."
The organic feel of the album is a product of its process. On the pleading, "Careless," which was written during the sessions in Philadelphia, the band stands side by side with Lee through this scathing personal tale of lost love and friendship. "On the second day we were recording in Philly, I went in a bit earlier than the guys, sat down in the vocal booth, and finished the song. When they showed up in the afternoon, we set up the mics and did this on the first take. It is a moment I am really proud to have shared with these guys."
And that is what great albums are about, moments. This recording captures the experience of people sharing musical moments together. Bound together by 11 well crafted songs, Lee, Maguire, and the musicians involved, create an album that not only displays Lee's growth as a recording artist, but leaves the impression that there will be many more great songs and albums to come.