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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Philadelphia is home to singer Amos Lee. But really, he says, he feels most at home when he's making music out on the road.

(Soundbite of song, "Hello Again")

Mr. AMOS LEE (Singer): (Singing) Hello again. I know it's been a long time coming.

BLOCK: On his new CD, Amos Lee keeps coming back to this idea that moving on means leaving things behind.

(Soundbite of song, "Hello Again")

Mr. LEE: (Singing) You say you've been out there now a long time running.

I'm not sure exactly who that's about because it could be about one of a few people I know. But I think ultimately, it's funny, but I think it's kind of about myself in a lot of ways. As I've moved along, like not only in my life, but my career and things like that, you look at yourself, and you start going, like, oh, man, are you still doing what you set out to do? And are the ideals you had still the same? And sometimes you measure up, and sometimes you don't.

The funny part about that song is I thought it was about somebody else, but it just might be about me.

BLOCK: Oh really? Because there is that line, that just awfully wrenching line: You used to be so beautiful, but you lost it somewhere along the way.

Mr. LEE: Don't you feel like that sometimes about yourself?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: On my worst days, yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Hello Again")

Mr. LEE: (Singing) You used to be so beautiful, but you lost it somewhere along the way.

I mean, it's not all gloom and doom, but there are days when you feel that way. And, you know, with songwriting, you're documenting particular moments. You're not documenting your overall sense of things. I'm not afraid to be bluntly honest in my songs, even if it means that I'm discovering things about myself that I'd rather not.

(Soundbite of song, "Hello Again")

BLOCK: Here's what I don't understand, Amos Lee, that you have this incredible, beautiful voice, but it sounds like you didn't really discover it or perform at all, sing at all, until you were in college, and that's where music became part of your life. I can't figures out how you didn't know before then that you had this instrument.

Mr. LEE: I didn't really hang around with anybody who was playing music. I was playing basketball most of the time. So there would be no real reason for me to know or not know that I was talented in that area.

BLOCK: But driving around, hanging out with your friends, there wasn't a point when you would just start singing, and people would go: Hey, you can really sing?

Mr. LEE: I wasn't really doing a whole lot of that. When you're a teenage fella, I mean, you're not exactly just singing to people.

BLOCK: You're not bursting into song, yeah.

Mr. LEE: Not when you're on the basketball court, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: I mean, you might be, but I would spend a lot of time in my room singing. That was kind of the first vocal lessons I got were - you know, the old-school way of recording songs on the radio was kind of to get a cassette and a tape deck and wait until my favorite song played and then hit the record button.

And I remember there were a bunch of songs that I was really feeling. There was this Power 9 at 9 in Philly, and I used to listen to that all the time, all those great R&B songs that were out in the '90s, and that's what I would record. I would record those songs and then sing along with all of them.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LEE: (Singing) My heart is a flower that blooms every hour. I believe in the power of love.

BLOCK: I've read that you, apart from doing concert tours, which you do all the time, you also perform sometimes outside the margins a bit, and that is how one of these songs, "Stay With Me," came about.

Mr. LEE: Yeah, "Stay With Me" is - it's a song that came up in Kent, Ohio. There was a fella, and his family, and I'm not sure how it happened exactly, but we were going to play a show there in Kent.

And I got an e-mail from a friend of his that was passed along to me that he wasn't well. He really wanted to make the show, but he was not well enough to get there. But he just wanted to let me know how much the music meant to him and that he appreciated what I was doing.

And I was super-touched by it, so I went - we went to his house and just played for him. And I walked out of there, and he came to the show that night. He actually, you know, he got up, and he came. It was amazing.

And, you know, I went on my way, I was playing some other shows, and I wound up in Hawaii. And I was sitting in a room, and I was playing my guitar, and that song just came to me. And I found out that - I'm not sure if it was the same exact day, but it was within a day or two that he had passed.

(Soundbite of song, "Stay With Me")

Mr. LEE: (Singing) One by one, we watch them fall like trees on (unintelligible). There you stay right with me, baby. (Unintelligible). Stay with me. Stay with me.

BLOCK: So how do you think your encounter with that young man who was dying, how did that come out in this song?

Mr. LEE: Pretty - I don't know, like pretty purely, I guess you could say. I'm sorry, I'm like, I get a little, like, worked up when I think about him.

BLOCK: Yeah, I can hear that in your voice.

Mr. LEE: Yeah, it's sad. It's real sad. I mean, I had another friend of mine who had a similar situation and lost somebody they loved. And, you know, they -it's some of the hardest stuff we go through as people. And for them to be able to face it with such conviction and strength and openness and love, I mean, that's what inspired me and that's what will inspire me forever.

BLOCK: That must have felt like a real gift for both of you, really, to be able to go to his house like you did and play just for him.

Mr. LEE: It's pretty amazing what music breaks down. All the barriers and borders that we set up, they're immediately erased when the connection of music is made. Before that moment, we were strangers, and the minute that we shared in that communion of music, we were family. And that's the greatest gift that I feel music has given to me and I try to continue to serve it to the best of my abilities.

(Soundbite of song, "Stay With Me")

Mr. LEE: (Singing) And when morning comes, just know, darling, (unintelligible).

BLOCK: Amos Lee, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

Mr. LEE: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Amos Lee's new CD is called "Mission Bell." You can hear full songs from the album at nprmusic.org.

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