With his compelling songs, stirring melodies, and preternaturally soulful voice, Sam Lewis has quickly established himself as one of Nashville’s most talented new tunesmiths. Waiting On You – his sophomore album via Brash Music and follow-up to 2012’s self-titled debut – reverberates with earnest emotion and restless energy, rich with the intimate lyricism of folk, country’s raw integrity, and a lived-in muscularity born of Lewis’ captivating vocal timbre. Songs like “3/4 Time” and the tender title track are intuitive and organic, the rollicking “Things Will Never Be The Same” groove-powered and irresistible. Produced by The Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood (Tedeschi Trucks Band, Shemekia Copeland) and featuring a stellar supporting cast of Music City’s finest session musicians, Waiting On You reveals Sam Lewis to be an exceptionally gifted troubadour, forthright, genuine and completely his own.
The self-described “typical kid with a guitar, going from Nirvana to Bob Dylan,” Lewis spent much of his youth on the move, with Asheboro, North Carolina as much a hometown as any. In TN, Lewis joined a buddy in Knoxville, paying his bills with a paycheck from Walmart Vision Center. He spent his off time penning his first-ever batch of songs, playing them out in countless coffee shops. By 2008 Lewis believed he had grown enough as a performer and an artist he packed his guitar and songs and made the inevitable move to Nashville.
“I felt its pull, its draw,” he says. “Some of my favorite people live in Nashville and I thought maybe I could rub up against a few of ‘em.”
Just as he’d hoped, Lewis arrived in Nashville and made a fan in producer/musician/entrepreneur Matt Urmy following an open mic at The 5 Spot. Urmy helped corral such all-stars as famed guitarist Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Lana Del Rey, Ray Lamontagne) to back the young singer/songwriter’s first real session, “a bunch of insanely talented musicians that I’d never played with, that had never heard my music. I was a nervous wreck.” Despite his understandable jitters, Lewis and his sidemen clicked from the jump, tracking six songs in just one day. He saved enough to record six more songs and in January 2011, a second session followed. Released in 2012, Sam Lewis received national acclaim, applauded by No Depression for “calling on the musical spirit of Leon Russell and maybe Al Green, after a weekend with Willie and Waylon in Dripping Springs, TX.”
Like any troubadour worth his salt, Lewis hit the road hard, traveling the South accompanied by bassist J.T. Cure and drummer Derek Mixon, with Vaughan joining whenever his schedule allowed.
“It’s kinda crazy,” Lewis says. “I got really lucky as far as my band. They’re great musicians and talented people and I believe they’d rather have my music in the universe than not.” Lewis cultivated his career and craft, performing with his crack combo in front of increasingly larger audiences while also wowing SRO crowds with solo acoustic shows in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the United Kingdom. He struck a deal with Atlanta’s Brash Music and in summer 2014, set to work on his second album, once again with some help from talented friends and fans. GRAMMY®-nominated mixer/engineer – and now chief engineer at Nashville’s famed Southern Ground studio – Brandon Bell introduced Lewis to producer/musician Oliver Wood of the acclaimed Americana trio, The Wood Brothers. Artist and producer “were on the same page from the get-go.” Lewis and his band united at Southern Ground, the site of classic recordings by Kris Kristofferson, Tony Joe White, and Lewis’ beloved Roy Orbison. As on his previous recordings, the band played together live on the studio floor, tracking a dozen songs in just two and half days.
“It’s a bit of a blur,” Lewis says, “but I just wanted to make a record with people I knew. My first record, I didn’t know any of those people and there was something in that without a doubt, but this time around, I wondered what it would sound like if I was a lot more relaxed.”
Safe in the solid foundation provided by his own band, Lewis added accent to his songs via contributions from some of Music City’s most celebrated sidemen, among them guitarist Darrell Scott (Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Robert Plant), harmonica legend Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young), guitarist Will Kimbrough (Rodney Crowell, Jimmy Buffett), keyboardist Gabe Dixon (Paul McCartney, Supertramp), and Nashville’s favorite vocal group, The McCrary Sisters (Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin). The cast of iconic players ably adds texture and filigree while never overburdening Lewis’ elemental ballads and finely etched character studies. Darrell Scott’s haunting lap steel on “Never Again” lends a lingering last-leg spirituality while Kimbrough’s inventive addition of reverbed electric mandolin to “3/4 Time” “put that song on its side and kicked it in the ass.” “Texas” – which hearkens such heroes as Guy Clark and Willie Nelson – practically demanded the “big color” that could only be provided by Mickey Raphael, a true blue icon whose indelible harmonica sound is among country music’s most familiar. “I’m just making friends, man,” Lewis says. “I’ve been really lucky. I have people that believe in my material. I have songs that they think the world needs.” Lewis sees himself as a link in a lineage, a continuum of truth-tellers and troubadours like Hank Williams, Fred Eaglesmith, and John Prine, singer/songwriters who utilized diverse elements of American music to create their own unique canons. Brimming with candid confidence and a determined artlessness, Waiting On You is a sure landmark on what has already been an extraordinary journey as well as a resonant signpost towards future triumphs.