An unofficial companion album of sorts to 2017's The Following Mountain, which consisted entirely of Amidon originals, Sam Amidon (2020) returns some of the same key contributors -- multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, drummer Chris Vatalaro, and saxophonist Sam Gendel -- for a full set of covers. As such, it's reminiscent of earlier works including his Nonesuch label debut, the folk-covers album Bright Sunny South (2013), but this time with a generally more ambitious design. While the likewise expansive The Following Mountain was produced by seasoned producer/composer/sideman Leo Abrahams, Amidon takes on the role himself here for the first time since his solo debut nearly 20 years prior.
"Revival" is a funny term for "mass commercialization," but that's just one of the paradoxes of the 20th-century folk music revival. Another is that it minted a production line for new folk songs, which once was an oxymoron. Sure, someone had written the old traditional tunes, but often they had been passed down regional and familial generations for so long that no one remembered who.
Whereas his 2017 album The Following Mountain comprised an all originals tracklist, Sam Amidon‘s new self-titled album inverts that precept by consisting entirely of covers and interpretations of folk standards. Yet rather than being the back to basics work its title might suggest, it represents a substantial advance in sound and scope from Amidon's earlier approaches to folk material. The wistful twang in Amidon's vocals resembles Arthur Russell, although his musical settings now seem to be more robust than Russell's often brittle constructions.
Photo by Steve Gullick The marvelous thing about Sam Amidon is how true he is to his source material, even as he turns it inside out. A scion of VT folk music royalty (if lefty organizations like Bread & Puppets can be said to have royalty), he's been playing traditional music professionally since his teens. He's mastered the old-time staples — fiddle, banjo and guitar — and can sing shape note music from the old notations, or he would if he didn't already know all the songs by heart.