The first time I heard Sam Lewis sing, I knew he was a star in the making. A gifted songsmith blessed with a soulful Southern twang, Sam’s debut record didn’t leave my cd player for weeks. It isn’t hyperbolic to suggest that “I’m A River,” the gospel infused gem from that first record, was my favorite song of 2012.

Waiting On You, Sam’s new record, is scheduled to drop in April, but fans old and new are treated with a special release this month. Recorded in a succession of hotel rooms while crisscrossing the U.S. and U.K. on tour, The Hotel Sessions offers listeners solo acoustic renditions of the tunes set to be on the new record in April.

The Hotel Sessions is straight forward and simple – Sam, his guitar, and a room. Initially a series of demo recordings designed to acquaint his band with what would be on the new record, the project grew into a full album in its own right. And while Sam often records with some Nashville heavyweights – his first record included Kenny Vaughan on guitar and Dave Jacques on bass, among others – nothing is lost on these stripped down versions. In fact, it could be argued that Sam is at his best in these solo situations. Unencumbered by distraction, his songcraft and passion are masterfully showcased.

I recently caught up with Sam to chat about the new record and lots of things hotel-related.

BRO – What was the inspiration behind The Hotel Sessions?

SL – The idea actually came from my manager’s assistant this past summer. I had just broke ground on a new album, Waiting On You, which will come out in April through Brash Music, a great indie label out of Atlanta. During a production meeting, we got to thinking of some cool ways to bridge the gap for my fans and get them excited about the release in April. Once our release date was announced, we were getting tons of inquiries about the record – folks didn’t want to wait that long to hear it! The demos of the record were nothing more than acoustic versions of me and my guitar captured in different hotels throughout the U.S. and U.K. These songs were still getting penned leading up to the recording sessions and I was still in the middle of a solid summer tour and I was getting them to my producer, Oliver Wood, and my band mates via email. All that being said, we put on our thinking caps, and The Hotel Sessions began to come together.

BRO – As compared to playing in a studio, did you hear your songs differently while playing in these hotels? Did any sonic surprises happen?

SL – It was interesting, more in hindsight, really. Once I agreed to use the actual demo recordings I had sent to my band mates, some personal insecurities set in. The demos are rough – I mean ROUGH – and I thought I should rerecord them. I did, but the new ones lacked that magic, so that proved to be a waste of time. We went with the original demos in the end. One thing to note is that the hotels are just like the studio; both can be magical environments if you are comfortable. A few of the songs changed completely from the hotel version once we began tracking in the studio, but I love all the versions of these new tunes. And there were some sonic surprises for sure . . . you pick up refrigerators, birds, sirens, trains, toilets, and sometimes you can even hear a couple arguing in the next room.

BRO – Did any of the hotels you visited make you think, “Yeah, I could crash here for a while”?

SL – A couple did, but I’m not the biggest fan of hotels. I try to stay with friends, family, or bed & breakfasts while I am on the road. Hotels don’t do much for me. I always seem to get stuck in the ones with the running toilet, thin walls, and/or the funky comforters. I may have just described every Super 8 or Days Inn I have ever visited.

BRO – We are featuring “Waiting on You” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?

SL – Funny enough, I actually started writing this song at precisely the same time an old roommate of mine was moving stuff out of the house, though the inspiration came from another place. I’m honestly not sure where it came from, but it is one of my few non-autobiographical tunes. Most songs I pen, I couldn’t begin to tell you when I started or finished, but this one I always remember starting.

BRO – Do you like the sheets tucked or untucked?

SL – Man, as long as they are clean, I don’t have a preference. I’ve come across many weird things while on the road, but this one time always sticks out. You know some of those fancier hotels that put chocolate on the pillows? Well, I was in one of those hotels one time and apparently the person that cleaned my room must have had some extras and then forgot to leave the air conditioner on. When I got back to my room on a scorching July afternoon, in dire need of a nap, it took me a minute to realize it was just melted chocolate on those white sheets. I found it more entertaining than the manager on duty.

Sam Lewis hits the road again later this month, with a run of dates out in Texas. He returns to the Southeast on January 31st, with a show at The Willow Tree in Johnson City, Tennessee.

I am happy to say that the fine folks at The Willow Tree have offered up a pair of tickets to the show. If you are you are interested, just take a second to drop me an email at dave@blueridgeoutdoors.com with SAM LEWIS in the subject line. A winner will be chosen from all emails received by 5 P.M. on Friday.

Make sure you take a listen to “Waiting On You” on this month’s Trail Mix. For more information on Sam Lewis and how you might go about getting a copy of The Hotel Sessions, surf over to www.samlewistunes.com.