Review Summary: 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. His debut, Solo Fiddle
was merely a compilation of traditional Irish instrumental covers, and his most recent past – 2014’s Lily-O
– saw him drop a collection of reworked folk songs. Although his work has always been technically proficient, he has never crafted an album of entirely original material…until now.
The results do not disappoint for what one might expect, coming from an artist who was submerged into music basically since his birth. The Following Mountain
is ripe with instrumental mastery, including fiddle, acoustic guitar, classical piano, various woodwinds, and an assortment of string inclusions. The record feels raw in most ways; the song structures tend to meander rather than coalesce, chasing ideas that sometimes reward listeners and other times lose them. Sam’s vocals might be coined as an acquired taste, as he alternates between Nick Drake reminiscent warbling (his cuts on ‘Juma Mountain’ especially lend credence to the comparison) and scratchy, dissonant wailing (see ‘Ghosts’). It’s a hodgepodge of concepts, but Amidon’s distinct fingerprint remains on the album at all times.
The Following Mountain
is at its best the more Sam chases his imagination. Sure, the tightly crafted acoustic number ‘Gendel in 5’ and the rural folk stomper ‘Blackbird’ sound like sweet spots, but the heart of this record lies with Amidon’s inability to be content with connecting the dots. ‘Ghost’ is the first obvious instance, as it allows him to trail off into this harsh sounding, vocally flawed stream of consciousness that results in something of a cacophonous mess. It might be the least listenable track on the album, but it sets an expectation early on that Amidon is out to serve himself here – this is his playground, and we’re just invited. It’s an expectation that is met consistently as the record progresses, culminating in the wholly unorthodox, eleven minute curtain call ‘April’ – which is addictingly experimental in every way and employs the services of revered jazz percussionist Milford Graves. The track is emblematic of the album’s strongest traits, as it tumbles down a rabbit hole of folk eccentricity that showcases Amidon at his best: in full on jam session mode, left to his own devices.
Still, one can’t help but wonder what might be possible if he focuses his efforts a bit. Nobody should want him to rein his creativity in, as it is what makes him such a promising artist in a scene being increasingly consumed by pop culture. Perhaps channeling
is the better word, as a lot of his experimental ventures here – as admirable as they are – feel scattered. Too often, tremendous ideas feel lost because there are other conflicting sounds and directions occurring simultaneously; or, because a good idea is chased too far to the point of losing its appeal. As his premier original composition, The Following Mountain
illustrates a massive wealth of musical ability and endless directions to take that talent in. Even if it isn’t the most polished or focused piece, it’s a tantalizingly unpredictable listen that with the right molding and direction, could signal even better things to come for Sam Amidon and his fans.