Sam Amidon: Bright Sunny South

Written by May 22nd, 2013 at 10:11 am

sam amidon

Sam Amidon
Bright Sunny South
(Nonesuch)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Being born and raised in Vermont but now living in London (with wife Beth Orton) gives Sam Amidon a unique perspective on the (mostly) traditional, acoustic folk of both continents. His fourth album in six years follows the blueprint of the previous ones by drastically rearranging a few pop songs and making them seem like the centuries old music that dominates his catalog. Mariah Carey’s “Shake it Off” and Tim McGraw’s “My Old Friend” get the nod this time. The former is given a stark, skeletal solo piano reading far removed from its glossy original. McGraw’s song is enhanced with bass, guitar and drums but still seems dredged up from some long forgotten Folkways recording. Amidon’s plaintive, boyish vocals make up in character what they lack in uniqueness.

Amidon’s appreciation of free jazz makes a startling appearance when legendary trumpet master Kenny Wheeler adds edgy, even experimental improvised lines to a fairly radical rearrangement of “I Wish I Wish” that even moves into cool dissonance. The raw, unruly, jarring electric guitar that drives “He’s Taken My Feet” off the road is another unexpected departure that shows Amidon’s penchant for taking chances. Despite its luminous title, Bright Sunny South is a melancholy listen, filled with loss and loneliness yet delivered with a ray of hope through multi-instrumentalist Amidon’s everyman voice.  Atmospheric, lovely and occasionally eerie, this is haunting music rescued from the sooty pages of history for a fresh go-round. He treats it with appropriate respect but pushes enough creative buttons to make these predominantly ancient tunes bloom for a new generation.

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