It doesn’t seem that long since we were in Sam Amidon’s company, we’ve seen quite a bit of the Vermont minstrel this year. It was only a few months back that he played on the very same stage in Whelan’s, and only a matter of weeks ago that he performed along side his Bedroom Community pals in the National Concert Hall on the Whale Watching tour – both marvelous shows so you’d think that’s your Sam fix for the year. However, when it leaked that he would be joined by the legendary Beth Orton (can we say legendary yet?) the decision was easy. The intention of this review was to pitch folk’s reigning Prince against folk’s Princess, how Sam fared against one of the most successful folk crossover artists of recent times – but that would never have worked for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Sam Amidon is no new kid on the scene, more so he is a child of folk. The son of Peter and Mary Alice Amidon, folk veterans and members of the Word of Mouth chorus group, he has lived and breathed folk all his life. Another reason is that he is not the reigning Prince of folk, he deserves to be, but for some reason Whelan’s is only marginally better attended than his last visit. Yes, we are forever hearing about artists that deserve more success, but this guy is the genuine deal – genuine being the optimum word.
Amidon plays in a manner so guileless, so real, it’s astounding. Every note of the rhythmic banjo version of ‘How Come That Blood’ was spell-binding, a perfectly entrapping opener. This tells us two things, Sam Amidon does not need studio flourishes (wonderful though they are) to convey the beauty and emotion of a song, and that he is still working with a tight budget. Travelling as light as ever his only accompaniments on stage are his banjo, guitar and fiddle – those and a few choice friends.
First up is experimental violinist Caoimhin O’ Raghallaigh who added some emotive strings to ‘Prodigal Son’. Back in June, Sam promised us a lilt of 943 Irish trad songs, he managed only 7 so in an attempt to make up the difference he and Caoimhin had a bit of a fiddle-off, resulting in a whooping jig so glamouring we easy forget that we are owed well over 900 more.
Surprise guest of the night was Glen Hansard, he stepped out of the crowd to bring backing vocals to the rustically doleful tale ‘Wild Bill Jones’, and helped out Sam on that dreadful moan. Hansard is a man well at home in Whelan’s but he seemed slightly awkward on stage – perhaps it was impromptu – and to his credit he took none of the focus off the star of the show.
Speaking of stars, Beth Orton wasn’t shining too brightly to begin with, she made a bit of a ham of ‘Johanna The Row-di’, and a coughing fit meant she abandoned ship for ‘Way Go Lily’ leaving the audience to sing her lulling whisper, “sometimes”, which we duly did. However Orton was saved by stunning performances of ‘You Better Mind’ and a John Martyn cover, her warm honeyed vocals reminding us of her specialness.
Now it would’t be a Sam Amidon show without some rambling musings, and he had plenty: moving mountains, Ryan Seacrest and throttling dinosaurs were just a few – even if you were there it wouldn’t make any more sense but it’s all part of his charm. It is conflicting though, a man so jovial and humourous, so relaxed and charming to have a whole room chuckling away can turn around and deliver heart-wrenching blows like the stunningly lonesome ‘Pretty Fair Damsel’ or the lingering beauty of ‘Saro’ – emotional to say the least. And as ‘Climbing High Mountain’ merged into R. Kelly’s ‘Relief’ there was little prompting required to the now traditional sing-along, a glowing communal love-in.
A raw performance and rawer emotions are the reasons to see Sam Amidon live. If you missed him this time don’t worry, with his current track record it won’t be long before he is back for more.
Photos: Julie Bienvenu[nggallery id=304]