Like last years "Bright Sunny South" this new album by Sam Amidon is quietly compelling and perfectly poised to soundtrack the onset of winter. 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. On "Lily-O" Amidon decamped to Iceland and took a number of stellar musicians along for the ride. In terms of the album It is the great guitarist Bill Frisell whose imprint is everywhere although Shahzad Ismaily on electric bass and Chris Vatalaro on drums, play their part.
As stated the development of Amidon's music essentially sees him reimagine and update these old songs, giving them a modern day intensity which makes them almost co-written by himself. Working alongside Frisell he performs wonders on the opener "Walkin Boss" full of banjo and Appalachian charm. Even better is the lovely "Blue Mountains" infused with an haunting acoustic mood which was no doubt inspired by the sinking sun in icy Reykjavík . The title track is very well done and while at eight minute plus it could have come close to outstaying its welcome this reviewer did not find his attention sag at any point. More stripped back is "Pat do this, Pat do that" an old galloping railway song, full of humour and excellently executed. Here Amidon's voice displays that worldliness that Dylan used to conquer up before his voice evolved into its current modern rasp. Amidon also takes on the old Mosie Lister gospel classic "I wont turn back" although its the old Alexander Johnson folk hymn "Devotion" dating back to 1818 which blows the listener away with its sublime dignity. Frisell's guitar backdrop is also beautifully performed and wonderfully understated. Finally many will have heard the traditional "Long Journey" on the Plant and Krauss collaboration "Raising Sand". Amidon's version is simpler and every bit a match for the former.
"Lily-O" then sits firmly in a direct line from Amidon's previous releases and there is no shame in that. Indeed the arrival of this album at this time of the year allows us a gorgeous opportunity to sit back, listen and revel in reinterpreted classic songs which already belong to all of us.
Review by Red on Black