Sam Amidon is a Northeast American folk singer-songwriter who is currently stationed in London. Starting with his 2001 release of Irish traditional standards played on the fiddle, Amidon’s career follows like-minded artists such as Andrew Bird and Miral Wagner in his creation of sweeping melodic ballads often accompanied by baroque instrumentation and effects.
The tracks are modern interpretations of traditional American folk songs with wholly Amidon flairs that make them entirely his. Lily-O is a gorgeous release of Americana and East Coast/Appalachian folk music that is a fair bit despondent in comparison to Amidon’s catalogue but by no means a disappointment.
The standout to any Sam Amidon album is his voice. The best comparison is early Bob Dylan – not because of the sound, but the way either artist belie a worldy experience far beyond their ages. Now Amidon is not one for the political or social commentary, but tracks such as Blue Mountains muse on universal human emotions through extremely intimate stories, much like the Freewheelin’ Dylan himself. He has an unusual tenor that has just enough dirt and grime to show Amidon has lived through at least some of the experience about which he sings. It’s rough, but not grating; Amidon hits and holds some impressive notes on Down The Line and the title track.
Amidon’s banjo takes center stage on Pat Do This Pat Do That, a genuinely fun bluegrass track that begs for square dancing and campfires. Flutes flutter in the background, and Amidon’s voice plays with cute lyrics that are almost nonsensical, but hey, who cares? Pat Do This Pat Do That is incredibly entertaining and it’s easy to sing along with this song, with the silliness of it all making it all the more fun.
The highlight of Lily-O is the eponymous track itself, a beautiful and successful synthesis of Irish and American folk music. Amidon’s cold lyrical open elicits traditional Gaelic classics such as An Binsín Luachra and Mairin De Barra as his voice winds around its own melody and arpeggiates each syllable through the scale. A twinkling electronic backing appears at about the three minute note, imparting an ethereal quality to Amidon’s heartwrenching ballad of a woman’s literal and metaphorical death. Drums and distorted guitar join the mix toward the latter third, but there’s no overbearing climax – just a soft, quiet end, much like Sun Kil Moon’s I Watched The Film “The Song Remains The Same” from this year’s Benji.
Another one of the better tracks is Blue Mountains, whose lyrical simplicity contradicts the intimate balladry. A slightly syncopated drum roll plays through the entirety of the track, which adds a nice bit of character. Down The Line is the most rock-influenced track, with crashing cymbals and slow guitar burns that are bursting at the seams during the chaotic instrumental break at about the two minute mark. Amidon does not repeat simple chords over and over again; he is, in all sense of the phrase, a hell of an instrumentalist.
Won’t Turn Back loses the momentum ever so slightly simply because that subject matter has basically become a clichéd requisite for a folk release. That being said, the Christian imagery saves it and will turn the heart of a jaded listener. It’s not preachy or evangelical; just a gorgeous, heartfelt rumination on Amidon’s life with the support of the Lord. Phox may milk classical imagery a little too much for comfort, but Amidon’s straightforward, earnest, and passionate invocation has no pretense.
But other than that one misstep, Lily-O is an almost perfect release and a prime addition to the folk rock climate. It’s heartfelt and sincere without pandering to any audience. Amidon is simply unafraid to show where and how his heart lies. It is highly recommended for any fans of slower folk. Amidon’s songs are for sombre campfires on a cold winter’s evening, which is likely where most of these songs were originally written, where one can feel that quiet intimacy that is to be human.