Sam Amidon, Via Tania | Maurer Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Sam Amidon, Via Tania All Ages Soundboard Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Fri., Sept. 10, 8 p.m. 2010

Sam Amidon inherited his love of folk music from his parents, a couple of traditional singers and folklorists from Brattleboro, Vermont, but in his own work he's nothing like a purist. His excellent new I See the Sign (Bedroom Community), like 2008's All Is Well, consists primarily of trad tunes that he's inventively tweaked or totally reworked—his intimacy with the songs, and his understanding of their malleability and universality, allow him to transform the material. Playing guitar and banjo and joined by an excellent supporting cast that includes pianist Nico Muhly, singer Beth Orton, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, producer-bassist Valgeir Sigurdsson, and on some tunes a full complement of strings and winds, Amidon interprets children's songs from the Georgia Sea Islands, a wide swath of old-timey and Appalachian folk numbers, and even R. Kelly's "Relief." He sings with a casual understatement that's neither detached nor overwrought; on "You Better Mind" he and Orton redirect the gospel fervor of Bessie Jones's version into insistently pulsing acoustic pop, as Ismaily (who's primarily a bassist) drives the bus with some appealingly ramshackle drumming. The album concludes with the sole original, "Red," which pushes an old-fashioned sound into something totally contemporary—Amidon chants "Found my lost sheep" as spiky string arpeggios drift into a dissonant drone. Here Ismaily will accompany Amidon on drums, bass, and vocal harmony. —Peter Margasak

Price: $12-$16

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