Album Review: The Following Mountain by Sam Amidon
Very Good, Based on 5 Critics
Under The Radar - 75 Based on rating 7.5/10
Vermont native Sam Amidon is the son of two folk artists in the Bread and Puppet Theater. He picked up the fiddle at the age of three and at age 13 started a band with pianist Thomas Bartlett, a prodigy in his own right, called Popcorn Behavior. Though his first three proper albums have been filled with arrangements of found gospel, Celtic, folk, and nursery song backlogs, The Following Mountain is Amidon's first album of purely (mostly) original compositions.
A pleasantly innovative slice of modern folk.
Born into a musical family, Sam Amidon learned to play the fiddle as early as age three. His parents are folk artists, his brother is a professional drummer, and he played piano professionally as a teenager with his childhood friend Thomas Bartlett (also known as Doveman, who produced Carrie & Lowell and frequently collaborates with The National). It's safe to say that music runs in Amidon's blood, and since 2001 he has been releasing solo material to varying levels of originality.
Despite howling "I'm out of ideas" to open one of its tracks, The Following Mountain marks a notable change in approach for musical raconteur Sam Amidon. After establishing himself over the course of several albums as a reinterpreter of traditional folk tunes, this is his first record to consist entirely of original songs. He began the recording process with a largely improvised session with legendary jazz drummer Milford Graves, Jimi Hendrix percussionist Juma Sultan, and saxophonist Sam Gendel, along with frequent collaborator Shahzad Ismaily.
You can rely on Sam Amidon's albums for heavily reworked American traditionals and a bit of Irish folk, mixed with a heartfelt pop cover or two--and always that beseeching voice, with its dusky bronze hue, elongating syllables like whale song. But only the last is present on The Following Mountain , his first record of mostly original material, save for a few stray citations: the lyrics of "Blackbird," a Kentucky fiddle tune, and some lines from a 17th-century poem. It is also, as foreshadowed by the presence of the electric jazz guitarist Bill Frisell on his last record , Amidon's most jazz-forward release to date.
A through-line of Sam Amidon's musical output to date has been his passion for traditional Appalachian folk music, reinterpreting songs as old as dirt with lively new arrangements and performances that maintain the intimacy of the original vernacular styles he draws from. Notably, then, The Following Mountain is his first album of original songwriting, but the beautiful style that he has cultivated for years is intact, and the writing, full of quaint natural imagery, will feel familiar to fans.
Following his lushly orchestrated collaborations for Bedroom Community with then-labelmates Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurðsson, Amidon's Nonesuch releases have traded the neo-classical accompaniment for increasingly jazzy, improv-based content, including recent collaborations with Kenny Wheeler and Bill Frisell.