Sam Amidon | Szold Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader

Sam Amidon All Ages Recommended Soundboard Image

When: Wed., Oct. 2, 9 p.m. 2013

On his latest album, Bright Sunny South (Nonesuch), Sam Amidon takes a wonderfully intuitive approach to adapting old-school oral folk traditions for the technological age. In his liner notes he explains the provenance of some of the tunes: he learned the title track from Dock Boggs records, and for his version of “Weeping Mary” he credits an album of shape-note singing by the Word of Mouth Chorus (on which his parents perform). But Amidon is no rigid purist clinging to dog-eared songbooks; he tackles Tim McGraw’s “My Old Friend” and Mariah Carey’s “Shake It Off” without making either sound like a postmodern joke shoehorned in among traditional material; he makes them both work as simpatico additions to an album whose lyrics quietly address loneliness, distance, and loss. Obviously he alters his source material, and not just the modern pop stuff: on the traditional “Pharaoh,” only some words remain from the Sidney Carter version recorded by Alan Lomax, while the music is all Amidon. He has an easygoing, naturalistic drawl that doesn’t belie any particular tradition or style—instead he just sings as if he’s lived with the material all his life, like a favorite blanket, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, fiddle, or banjo. Amidon has married singer Beth Orton and moved to England since his previous record, but he’s nonetheless joined here by regular collaborators Thomas Bartlett on keyboards and Shahzad Ismaily on bass and percussion; he also drafted jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler to perform on a couple of pieces, and the way his sorrowful horn fits into the beautiful melody of “I Wish I Wish” reminds me of vintage Robert Wyatt. Amidon has a great talent for seeing beyond stylistic borders and eras, putting his heart into whatever his expression requires. For this performance he plays solo. —Peter Margasak

Price: $18, $16 for members

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