Sam Amidon‘s music is best defined as reinterpreted folk and gospel songs. The Vermont troubadour has carved a vocation out of age-old tales of love, God and murder. Though much of his material is of lost origins from centuries passed and from places you may have never been, Amidon sings with a credibility and earnestness so compelling he draws you into the story, and the moment.
Only three songs into his set Sam recruits his Whelan’s audience for backing vocals. Replacing Beth Orton’s whisper on the lulling -Way Go Lilly’, the eager and huddled crowd softly sing ‘sometimes’ in retort. It’s neither a request or an instruction but something in between – a kind of expected participation between friends.
Son of Mary Alice and Peter Amidon, who were members of the Word of Mouth chorus group, Sam is continuing a legacy; the old folk tradition of handing down music and stories from one generation to another – personally. His renditions of the Americana -Saro’ and -Wild Bill Jones’ are stirring, performed with a candour that’s rustic, lonesome and lingering. As he lets out the particular ‘dreadful moan’ on the latter, Amidon shows both his experimental and humorous traits; it’s a prolonged squeal that he advises not to do while swigging whiskey. There is proper honesty to Sam’s performance. Opening with -I See The Sign’, the title track from his latest album, his vocal is raw, strained and almost hesitant but in a perfectly effective way.
Amidon’s only other accompaniment tonight are the guitar and banjo he flits between for the set. It is true to say that some songs lack the intricacies and nuances of his recordings – however, this is more than made up for with some skilled and emotive playing. The mood is set for -How Come That Blood’ with an alerting howl and the rhythmic edge is captured with some impressively controlled and repetitive banjo.
It’s the night before his 29th birthday and Sam is giddy. He promised to lilt ‘943 Irish fiddle tunes in under 10 minutes’, he sings 2 before giving up but later borrows a fiddle for an encore of jigs, reels and bluegrass.
Amidon has a naturally quirky charm, actually charm is something he has in abundance. His between song banters are comedic ramblings. Intended as sub texts to his songs, they veer off to the adventures of miniature desk people crossing elastic band bridges or the dangers of using a fuzzy donkey as a pillow. More peculiar perhaps are the real life events, trouserless men smoking outsides pubs, while visiting Leeds with his support, Leif Vollebekk (who played a marvellous set of acoustic folky blues, definitely one to watch).
Sam continues to wander with engaging fables such as -Wedding Dress’ and -Little Satchel’. -1842′ serials the antics of Pat and Johnny on their railroad travels which somehow shoots forward to the 1980s by evolving into -Head Over Heels’ by Tears for Fears – spreading beaming smiles about the floor. The melodies of -Climbing High Mountain’ and R. Kelly’s -Relief’ merge as one, causing a jovial mass sing along – a truly intimate and beautiful experience. This is Sam’s gift. Whether it’s a revered folk classic, steeped in years of sentiment or a flighty modern pop number, Sam Amidon performs with a conviction that is genuinely moving.
Photos by Damien McGlynn