Singer/songwriter Lee Hewitt’s new EP, “The River & the Blue Ridge,” is soaked in the Southeast. From the title, which refers to the Reedy River meeting the Blue Ridge Mountains, to tracks like “Maggie of the Valley,” which tells the fictional tale of the woman that Maggie Valley, North Carolina, was named after, to Hewitt’s rustic, bare-bones voice-and-acoustic guitar approach, the EP may not have an explicit concept, but it’s certainly meant to evoke the place we call home.
Hewitt says that the music on the EP, which was recorded at Sit-N-Spin studios in downtown Greenville, was partially shaped by the nature of the Upstate.
“Nature is a really big influence for me,” Hewitt says. “I’m pretty big on taking walks, runs, hikes. And I get a lot of songwriting inspiration from that. I’ve been living in Greenville for the past five years, and I feel like just getting outside as much as I have, the landscape of Greenville has influenced me. I really do love it.”
Hewitt says that he chose the five songs he’d written that fit the acoustic format best, and set out to record them with zero frills, both for practical and artistic reasons.
“I didn’t want to shell out a lot of money to make this a big production,” he says. “But I really do love acoustic music and pared-down arrangements. When it’s a really good song, I think there’s something to the idea of doing it in that setting.”
It was an interesting decision, since Hewitt is not all that confident about his guitar-playing skills.
“I started out just singing,” he says. “Shortly before I graduated high school, I picked up the guitar, mainly as a means to accompany myself while singing. I still consider myself much more a singer than a guitarist.”
The songs are all strong, melodic folk tunes, but the lyrics are far from the standard confessional singer/songwriter fare.
“Truth be told, I don’t know that my life is interesting enough to write songs about!” Hewitt laughs. “Not to say that there isn’t any of my life in these songs; I like to draw a little from my personal experiences, but fictional characters, that’s what I like to write about.”
Several of the tracks on “The River & the Blue Ridge” are about heartbreak, but “Maggie of the Valley” and the title track are far more intricate tales.
“The lyrics that ended up feeling right [for the title track] were about two lovers,” Hewitt says. “One of them has died and is trying to comfort the other one from beyond the grave. ‘Where the river and the mountains meet’ is obviously a reference to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Reedy River. But also I wanted to have it serve as a metaphor for life meeting death in the context of the song.”
And the history of the song “Maggie of the Valley” is that, well, Hewitt doesn’t know much actual history about Maggie Valley.
“I was driving from South Carolina to Ohio, and I rode past Maggie Valley,” he says, “and I don’t know anything about the history of the town. I thought, ‘What if there really was a Maggie that the town was named after?’ And over the course of that drive I formulated the ideas of what this fictional Maggie would be like, what people in the town would’ve said about her, why they named the town after her. That’s one of my favorite songs to play, and it came out of this idea that struck me to create this fictional character and write around her.”