Sam Amidon
Sam Amidon


5.0
classic

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
October 25th, 2020 | 27 replies


Release Date: 10/23/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Perfect, in its own way.

I want to preface this critique of Sam Amidon by posing a question: what makes an album perfect? It’s not something I usually deliberate upon due to the subjective nature of all art, but Amidon’s self-titled piece has forced me to at least confront my own definition. You see, I’ve always valued originality in music – in other words, a good original song would always beat out an excellent cover of the same track. There’s something to be said for the time and effort it takes to extract musical gratification from a simple idea or emotion. For most of my life, I’ve felt that a musician’s artistry is derived from that ability, and that anyone who recreates a song is merely riding on the coattails of the true visionary. I’m still not convinced that Mr. Amidon has swayed me, but his approach to covering songs is like few I’ve ever heard.

Amidon has made a rare career out of “reinterpreting” classic folk/country/Americana tunes. These interpretations are vivid re-imagining as opposed to mere retreads – they rarely sound anything like the original piece, and in most cases one would be hard-pressed to connect an Amidon tune to its original counterpart unless they were already well-versed in the song’s lyrics. Further aiding Amidon’s cause is the fact that his well of tracks consist of very few household names. The Stoneman’s 1952 track ‘The Spanish Merchant’s Daughter’ isn’t likely to ring very many bells, nor is the 1969 Taj Mahal rendition of ‘Light Rain Blues’, but each of the songs thrive and complement each other on 2020’s Sam Amidon. It’s almost like he takes a magnifying glass to older black-and-white tracks, colorizes them, and elevates them to their full potential.

Part of what makes Amidon’s craft so admirable is that it’s not entirely self-serving; he’s bringing an entire collection of oft-forgotten tracks back into our collective consciousness. I’ve spent nearly as much time researching the original cuts from which Sam Amidon was derived as I have listening to Sam Amidon itself, and it’s been just as educational as it has been enjoyable. Sam’s portrayal of these songs is not egoistic; he selects pieces that have retained personal meaning to him, such as Harkin Freye’s hymnal-like 1940s piece ‘Time Has Made a Change’, which Amidon fondly recalls singing with his parents during his childhood. Between the motives surrounding his song selection and the value that comes with raising awareness for elapsed and largely unaccounted for early-1900s folk, the idea that he’s “covering” these songs becomes entirely permissible in my eyes – to the extent that I view it as a point of pride for Amidon. With so many consumers and critics in the modern music industry bemoaning the idea that “all music has been done before”, Sam’s approach of dusting off old, tattered folk tunes actually makes a modicum of sense. If it seems like there are no new avenues for exploration, then find something meaningful to you and make it your own. With Sam Amidon, he’s certainly done that.

Sam Amidon floats by like a daydream. Whether it’s ‘Maggie’ hovering atop pitter-pat drums, ‘Pretty Polly’ strolling through a field of pastoral guitars and flutes, or ‘Light Rain Blues’ sinking into an effervescent pool of electronics, the atmosphere remains mesmerizing and tightly-knit. Vocally, Amidon recalls a modern Nick Drake; high praise to be certain but also well-deserved. Instrumentally, atmospherically, and production-wise, I’d liken Sam Amidon to Iron & Wine’s The Shepherd’s Dog – it’s clearly rooted in acoustic folk and strong melody, but it also dives into rich, textural electronics which provide an almost aqueous contrast to the album’s earthier tones. While the scenery varies between tracks, at no point does the foundation of Sam Amidon shift.

This isn’t the sort of album that makes more sense during a certain time of day, or amid the elements of a particular season. Sam Amidon transforms your surroundings – whatever they may be – and makes them memorable. In the past few days I listened to Amidon’s self-titled offering while driving to my brother’s wedding – through sunset-tinted amber farm fields and rolling hills – as well as alone in my room, watching rain splatter upon my bedroom window as I sat in the dark by the faint glow of a computer monitor. I won’t forget either occasion, because Sam Amidon is so rich in atmosphere, melody, and emotion that it allows you to attach meaning to anything from life’s biggest moments to the most mundane instances of isolation. I can still hear the swirling woodwinds and fiddles of ‘Cuckoo’ in my head and picture the rural countryside, just as I can recall how monotonous the ensuing evening became as it drew on, each “no sir, no sir, no sir, no –” from ‘Spanish Merchant’s Daughter’ hitting me harder with each gorgeous repetition. I’ve only had three days with Sam Amidon, and I already feel like I’ve made a lifetime of memories with it. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

All too often, it’s tempting to evaluate art based on measurable criterion: how complex the instrumentation is, the range of the vocalist, the creativity of the drumming, the innovation of the songwriting – and while that’s all undoubtedly important, sometimes a record’s success simply boils down to one’s ability to connect with the music. Sam Amidon might be a series of reimagined folk songs, but I can’t remember going out of my way to listen to any album – over and over and over again – the way that I do for this. In advance of the record’s release, Amidon described his 2020 self-titled record as the fullest realization to date of his artistic vision. If ever there was something I would have disputed prior to actually hearing the music, it would be the idea that a batch of covers couldn’t possibly be the apex of a musician’s career – and if it was, that it couldn’t have been much of a career to begin with. Sam Amidon, in all of its unfurling melodic beauty and spellbinding aura, has totally altered my outlook. To revisit the question I posed earlier – what makes an album perfect? – I’d now answer that ideal art does not necessarily need to stem from the original composer. In reinventing and giving a modern twist to timeless but overlooked folk gems, Sam Amidon has concocted something entirely unique that nobody else could, or arguably ever would, have done...in itself, a form of inspired creation. There’s an undeniable magic to this thing. I highly encourage you to check your reservations at the door and dive in.




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user ratings (15)
4
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
October 25th 2020


36209 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Entire album can be streamed via the above bandcamp embed, but is also available elsewhere. This revolutionized my view on cover albums. One of the best folk albums I've ever heard, honestly. It has been immensely satisfying spiritually and emotionally, I can't quite put into words how I've connected with this so quickly.

Digging: Seahaven - Halo of Hurt

Gyromania
October 25th 2020


30930 Comments


Very good review sowing, especially liked the final paragraph. For me, using the words "perfect" or "best" in reference to an album or artist always feels like a bad idea. With any artform even. Not because of subjectivity either, I just don't think a piece of art can ever be truly perfect.

This album sounds like a good time. When it comes to covers I prefer complete reimaginings too. Nothing's worse than a lazily rehashed cover song that doesn't bring anything new to the table

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 25th 2020


36209 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks Gyro. I hope you've been doing well. I mirror your views on basic covers vs. "complete reimaginings". This is very much the latter and it retains a very "Nick Drake meets Sam Beam" atmosphere throughout. I don't want to overhype it (too late) because folk seems to be so dependent on personal connection, but I highly recommend this for however much or little that's worth!

ashcrash9
October 26th 2020


3120 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Heard some Amidon before so I kinda knew what I was expecting here but I'm still kinda stunned on first listen how gorgeous this is and how cohesively these tracks all fit together through his re-arrangements. Review definitely gets at those strengths. Perfect time of the year for this to drop too, looking forward to revisiting it

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 26th 2020


36209 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Cool, not very many people know about Amidon and far less have listened to his other works. I was a fan of his all-original 2017 album The Following Mountain, but the songs meandered a bit and never really took hold despite being fairly innovative for folk. I know these are all reworkings, but he absolutely nailed this thing from the restructuring of the tracks all the way down to the production. I can also appreciate that he generally (and always has) covered songs that aren't that well-known. It helps shed light on them when he could probably get more downloads/streams for redoing popular stuff. That gets a lot of respect from me. As I mentioned in the review, too, I've really enjoyed looking back on the original tracks and seeing where all of this stemmed from.

ashcrash9
October 26th 2020


3120 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

A friend of mine is from the same Vermont town where Amidon grew up and has met him a few times iirc - I'd first heard of him through them and finally checked a full record of his since I recognized the name when The Following Mountain came out. With how good this is, I might need to take a deeper trudge through his back-catalogue soon

BigTuna
October 26th 2020


5454 Comments


I've never understood why Amidon hasn't made more waves in the folk scene. He's absolutely revered amongst my musician friends. I haven't listened to much of his music since Lily-O, but I'll definitely give this a few spins. Beautiful review!

Digging: San Fermin - The Cormorant I and II

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 26th 2020


36209 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks BigTuna. I think part of the reason he's not bigger is because he only performs covers, and also those covers are of relatively unpopular and outdated folk tunes. Those also happen to be huge contributing factors as to why I love this, but it doesn't exactly lend his art to widespread recognition, particularly among mainstream outlets and publications.

BigTuna
October 26th 2020


5454 Comments


You're probably right. I think my friends love him because they all do similar things, like reinterpreting early 20th century Alan Lomax field recordings from Michigan. Here's a link to their most recent project: https://www.michiganio.com/

Anyway, I think we need another category for albums like this. I mean, it is a cover album, but many times Amidon is really only covering the lyrics. The rest of the music is purely original. My friends use "retuned", which could work.

BigTuna
October 26th 2020


5454 Comments


You use "reimagined" in the review - that's good too.

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 26th 2020


36209 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah, retuned/reimagined/reinterpreted all work. It's kind of like taking old cars and rebuilding them. There's still a lot of skill that goes into re-engineering it and at the end of the day it ends up entirely different than the raw shell you began working with.

BigTuna
October 26th 2020


5454 Comments


Good analogy.

Lord(e)Po)))ts
October 26th 2020


62193 Comments


I like Sugar Baby from that one alb

Sowing out here trying to accumulate as many 5s as I have tho jfc

Digging: MYSS KETA - IL CIELO NON E UN LIMITE

Sunnyvale
October 27th 2020


1845 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is a really great album. I liked The Following Mountain's more straightforward folky moments but didn't like the experimental elements much, so this is much more to my taste

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 28th 2020


36209 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Glad to see people digging this. It has such an allluring atmosphere.

BigTuna
October 28th 2020


5454 Comments


It really does. The opener is magnetic, and it continues from there. Favorite tracks a few spins in are "Maggie", "Light Rain Blues", and "Cuckoo".

SowingSeason
Moderator
October 28th 2020


36209 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I don't have a least favorite track because they're all superb, but my favorites would have to be Spanish Merchant’s Daughter, Hallelujah, and Time Has Made a Change. All of them are way more memorable than they should be for slow, subtle folk songs.

Kiran
Emeritus
October 28th 2020


6099 Comments


Oh wow, it's been a long time since I've listened to Sam Amidon. I used to really love All Is Well and I See The Sign, so this was cool to see.

anatelier
October 29th 2020


3643 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm enjoying this quite a bit

c0ffee
October 29th 2020


313 Comments


This reminds me a little bit of Noonday Dream, at least the first half.



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