Release Date: Sep 30, 2014
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Traditional Folk
Sam Amidon is a Northeast American folk singer-songwriter who is currently stationed in London. Starting with his 2001 release of Irish traditional standards played on the fiddle, Amidon’s career follows like-minded artists such as Andrew Bird and Miral Wagner in his creation of sweeping melodic ballads often accompanied by baroque instrumentation and effects. The tracks are modern interpretations of traditional American folk songs with wholly Amidon flairs that make them entirely his.
That Zimmerman cat pretty much fucked it for all the humble troubadours. Playing with The Band and spiking his lyrics with both oblique and pointed references to his own messy affairs, Bob Dylan returned from the Highway 61 Revisited tour having completely changed the traditional character of the folk singer. No longer mere performers of song, following Dylan’s sixth album folk artists were expected to mine (or fabricate) their own out-sized persona, creating a mythology that would feed into and authenticate the blood, grit and truth of their songcraft.
Vermont-born folk musician Sam Amidon spent much of his recording career reinventing traditional and public domain folk songs and occasionally dropping in a more rustic reading of a modernized R&B tune, effectively bending traditional mountain songs, folk-blues, and Mariah Carey songs around his rusty vocals and pristine arrangements. Beginning somewhere around his 2007 album All Is Well, Amidon began honing his voice and built further upward with each consecutive album. Lily-O may be the finest hour of Amidon's well-refined approach to the seemingly endless well of public domain folk songs, offering some of his most beautiful and daring arrangements yet.
Sam Amidon’s new set of “reimagined folk songs” is a compellingly quiet, intense affair that is remarkable both for the power of his understated, no-nonsense and often mournful vocals, and for the subtle arrangements that bring an urgency to his mostly traditional American songs and hymns. His last album, Bright Sunny South, featured jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, but he is joined here by adventurous guitarist Bill Frisell, whose past experiments have ranged from jazz to Malian fusion. The title track starts with Amidon singing unaccompanied, but as the murder story develops, Frisell moves in with thoughtful and edgy electric-guitar improvisation, driven on by bass and drums.
Singer, guitarist, fiddler, banjo player, Sam Amidon’s family background is one of music, song, dance and storytelling, all themes which find themselves on his sixth studio album, Lily-O. It was originally conceived as a improvisational project together with jazz guitar player Bill Frisell. Through its development, the record has become a patchwork of traditional and contemporary songs, delivered with passion and dedication.
Sam Amidon has never shied away from testing the patience of his listener. His music relies on people being happy to commit to takes on timeless, traditional Americana and folk pieces. He meanders and dawdles, letting the old songs drift through loose arrangements and spacious textures. But even taking all of this into consideration, Lily-O is a particularly subtle listen, finding Amidon at his most downbeat in years, especially juxtaposed with last year's comparatively svelte and zippy Bright Sunny South.
The centerpiece of Sam Amidon’s fifth proper record is a nine-minute song called “Lily-O”, which opens with Amidon singing a lengthy a cappella epilogue about three suitors courting three ladies. It’s austerely quiet until two minutes into the song, when a second instrument enters—a single crackle of electric guitar, sharp and splintery, like a log sparking in a fireplace. Amidon is settling in for a long story that is less about marriage and more about betrayal, violence, death, and loss.
Sam Amidon - banjo player, fiddler, guitarist, singer and song collector from Vermont - is sometimes called "eccentric." Yet on his sixth LP, his unconventional approach to interpreting traditional tunes sounds sensitive and sensible. It's easily one of the most beautiful, subdued folk records of the year. He recorded it in Reykjavik with producer Valgeir Sigurdsson (Björk, Feist, Bonnie "Prince" Billy) and invited jazz guitar great Bill Frisell to join his regular collaborators Shahzad Ismaily (bass) and Chris Vatalaro (percussion and electronics) in the mostly live sessions.
Sam Amidon subtly adjusts his folk-free-jazz-avant-garde brew on Lily O, hewing closer to the rustic core of his traditional material than on Bright Sunny South. Guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Shazad Ismaily haunt the peripheries of these tunes, shading righteous pre-War certainty with spectral atmospherics and free jazz experiments, and producer Valgeir Sigurosson aids in opening the songs up into vast, sweeping dimensions. Yet you have to listen for these non-folk elements, so closely do they blend into a simple, beautiful essence.
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