It was on BBC Radio 6 from whence most good things spring. There was a voice singing a haunting piano ballad in almost a Tom Waits vein. It was beautiful, desolate and naggingly familiar. Why any acoustic folk singer in their right mind would want to cover Mariah Carey's up-tempo R&B Emancipation of Mimi cut `Shake It Off' is a matter for a qualified psychologist but while Sam Amidon's version is a little bit off the wall it is totally in line with the lo-fi feel of this splendid little album that is tinged in melancholy. Hailing from Vermont Sam Amidon is a folk singer, multi-instrumentalist and interpreter of songs, both old and new. Indeed, he majors in disassembling and then reconstructing antiquated traditional songs, secular ballads along with the occasional modern pop hit.
"Bright Sunny South" is Amidon's sixth solo effort but the first to make this reviewer to sit up and listen. The tile track of the album is an old Civil War lament which has been previously covered by Alison Krauss. It is like a Amidon manifesto in its sparseness and sweet subtlety. Amidon voice is perfect for the lament and his version invokes that acoustic magic that Sufjan Stevens taps into on the shimmering "Seven Swans". The opening lines evoke the wastage of war as he regrets "From the bright sunny south to the war, I was sent/E'er the days of my boyhood, I scarcely had spent/From it's cool shady forests and deep flowing streams/Ever fond in my mem'ry and sweet in my dreams". Other standards here which are executed with deft precision include a poignant "Streets of Derry" with a fiddle backdrop that tugs at your emotions, alternatively the old Irish Standard "As I roved out" is turned into a song of Appalachian fury and should be checked out post haste. The upbeat cover of Tim McGraw's "My old friend" is just a plain piece of celebratory folk which is very well done, so to the plaintive standard "He has taken my feet". The possible standout here is one of the shortest songs the gorgeous "I wish I wish" whose beauty is dramatically enriched by 83-year-old trumpeter Kenny Wheeler's jazzy interventions. Overall "Bright Sunny south" is one of the acoustic wonders of the year, a testimony to the raw power of nylon and steel.
Sam Amidon likes to revamp traditional and other people's songs in his own style. A songwriter he ain't - but he's a very clever arranger. Various of his friends play on various tracks and produce, in places, a full and quite unusual smorgasbord of sounds. I particularly like the way he's used percussion. He reworks his material sometimes in a strikingly modern way that would've made the folkies I grew up with choke on their real ale. The rhythms on some of the tracks are complex and/or ... strange. This is A Good Thing. Sam's soft voice is striking and provides a strong throughline for the album. But then occasionally he plays an instrumental, and one realises how very tightly his instrumental and singing styles cleeve together. This really is a complete package.
I know folk music has never gone away, so I hope Sam Amidon's fresh approach begins a full-blooded revival. We're due one. And with music of this quality being produced I hope I might be forgiven for saying 'it's arrived'.
I really like this album, I heard 'Streets of Derry' late one night on radio, and bought the mp3 album almost immediately. I do like it a lot. I gave it four stars rather than 5 because I found the majority of tracks a little too same-ish, whereas 'As i roved out' and 'Shake it off' seemed a bit incongruous by comparison - so I think the selection of tracks could have been tighter, but apart from this small nitpicky criticism I really enjoy his musical style and mode of interpretation... recommended!! I should clarify, this album just misses 'brilliant' and 'genius' by a snifter...
I came across this randomly on amazon listening to the samples and bought it pretty much straight away - is an outstanding album - i can't stop playing it - absolutely beautiful music and wonderful atmosphere - i'm so pleased to have discovered Sam Amidon - who i would have to confess i'd never heard of before