Like many before him, Sam Lewis came to Nashville to make music. But unlike the majority, Lewis managed to hop on one of the most successful tours that country music has seen as of late. He’s collaborated with everyone from John Prine and Kacey Musgraves to The Wood Brothers. Chris Stapleton dubbed him “a modern Townes Van Zandt”. And while he’s often labeled with some form of the word ‘soulful’ (some have even compared his voice to molasses), Lewis’ style meets at a juncture of many different genres. There’s something about Sam Lewis that is indescribably different -- and with his newest project, he’s discovered what most musicians spend lifetimes working for -- the place where feel-good music meets vital social commentary.
When Lewis decided to make the move from Knoxville to Nashville in summer 2009, he was still working full-time at Walmart (a gig that lasted nearly a decade). In his off-time, he began playing smaller local venues including the 5 Spot, where he met fellow singer-songwriter Matt Urmy. After forming a friendship, Urmy offered to help Lewis “We went to his basement, I laid down some songs, we pieced a band together and made a record in a couple days at Eastwood Studios.” That record would become Lewis’s first official release and self-titled debut that featured Nashville greats Kenny Vaughan, Reggie Bradley Smith, Dave Jacques, and Derek Mixon. And with Lewis’ sole intention of moving to be a musician that ‘records it and tours it’ he did just that, traveling from Nashville to New York via train to play shows, then spending a month in England.
By late 2014, Lewis had turned 30, established himself with the Nashville music scene, and signed with the boutique Georgia label, Brash Records. With the help of Brash and producer Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers, Lewis released his second full-length, Waiting on You, in April 2015. The sophomore was critically acclaimed and once again featured Kenny Vaughan, in addition to Darrell Scott, Gabe Dixon, the McCrary Sisters, and Willie Nelson’s legendary harmonica player, Mickey Raphael. While No Depression compared Lewis’ soulful style with the likes of Al Green and Van Morrison, Craig Havighurst (Music City Roots) coined Waiting on You as “Americana with a groovy twist”. While the album racked in incredible reviews, Lewis’ booking agency also got bought out in the same time frame — unfortunately leaving him with a solid album, but no tour dates to show for it.
Lewis applied to work at a Post Office in East Nashville but by the time he got a call for a second interview, someone else had called with a more enticing offer: the opening spot for the Traveller release show, Chris Stapleton’s Grammy-winning album. From there, life moved fast. Lewis toured with Stapleton for the remainder of summer 2015, and by January 2016, found himself playing sold-out 2 and 3-night shows at venues like The Tabernacle and the Ryman Auditorium.
During that time, Lewis was driving to play a show in Richmond when he spotted a bright, rainbow building just off the interstate. “The building had a word on it, but all I could see was -SITY,” he says, “I immediately said ‘loversity’, even though the sign said ‘diversity’. My friend and I Googled it and it wasn’t a real word, but I thought, well, I like that word.” A week later, Lewis returned home and immediately wrote “Loversity”, which would set the tone for his album.
Lewis’ forthcoming record is self-produced and set to be released March 23, 2017. The album is composed of 12 tracks that Lewis has spent over a year and a half writing and playing for others. Since Waiting on You, his classic style remains present yet matured, with a more refined worldview, “These newer songs have been harder to write, but extremely necessary given the current climate I find the world in.” Recorded at Southern Ground Studios with engineer Brandon Bell, the album spans from upbeat songs like “Loversity” to the darker “One in the Same,” an electric guitar heavy ballad with a driving force reminiscent of the Black Keys’ Brothers. While most songs are originals, the record includes “Accidental Harmony”, a lullaby that fellow Nashville songwriter John Mann wrote for his first born child, and “Natural Disaster”, a Loudon Wainwright song that Lewis felt drawn to.
And while each song varies in tone, they all circle back to one universal theme. “This is the closest thing I’ll ever write to a concept album. The idea is that we are all trying to get somewhere — all running from something and toward something. We’re all together in it, though.” As current events in the world divide the masses based on difference, Sam Lewis’ new album is a soul-filled, catchy collection of reminders that diversity and unity can co-exist.