Singer Sam Amidon deftly weds the universal truths of folk music with an unapologetically exploratory musical sensibility | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Singer Sam Amidon deftly weds the universal truths of folk music with an unapologetically exploratory musical sensibility


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On every recording it seems like singer Sam Amidon eagerly shares new insights, knowledge, and experiences he’s gained since his last work. Throughout his career he’s consistently stretched the boundaries of folk music to the breaking point. Much of his repertoire is based upon or borrows from artifacts in the public domain—expertly gleaning universal truths conveyed through oral transmission and folk song—but everything he does feels explicitly alive and charged by the world around him. On the superb new The Following Mountain (Nonesuch) several songs feature an unlikely collaborator, percussionist and improvisor Milford Graves, whose magnificent polymetric style is effectively folded into song form on “Ghosts” and a thrilling group improvisation on “April” that follows previous encounters with musicians like Kenny Wheeler and Bill Frisell. On original songs like “Fortune” Amidon sings lyrics that cut to the quick with elemental truths, expressing his folly in trying to come to grips with the indifferent, personalized manifestation of fortune. On “Ghosts” he nasally chants over his own droning violin and the irregular throb of Graves’s drumming—neatly processed into the massive sound of an echo chamber by producer Leo Abrahams—in the type of handmade minimalism found in Tony Conrad’s music. “Another Story Told” offers a repeating acoustic guitar arpeggio and simple drum machine beats before the atmospheric guitar textures of Shahzad Ismaily, the occasional punchy drum beat from Chris Vatalaro, and probing, grainy violin from Amidon push the tune into some elusive fusion of free jazz and folk that adds up to something more. Amidon is a charming performer and a witty storyteller—onstage he seems to have trouble sticking to a single thread, which gives his concerts a wonderful air of unpredictability that entertains and beguiles. Tonight he’s joined by Vatalaro and guest bassist Matt Lux.   v

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