The Amidon Family is about as local as a folkband can get. Stars of the artistically self-sustaining Brattleboro, Vermont music scene for decades, parents Peter and Mary Alice were carrying their love for Shaker plainsongs and traditional folkmusic from local farmer's markets to a roadmap of traditional folkfans long before I moved to the area in the early nineties. Boys Stefan (drums) and Sam Amidon (fiddle, banjo, guitar) have been accompanying their parents since childhood; they formed Assembly (then called Popcorn Behavior) and set out on the contradance circuit before puberty, wowing audiences with their young virtuosity and bringing a faster pace than their parents had to the traditional folkreel set.
True, contradance and localfolk occupy a small niche even within the larger realm of folk music. But today, though both brothers support the increasingly avant-folk Assembly and The Amidon Family, neither Sam Amidon nor his music are local anymore. And the result -- so far -- has been a revelation.
Just four years after recording an entire album of overly-traditional solo fiddle tunes, Sam Amidon has begun to stretch the boundaries of traditional folk, bringing his banjo to support such Brooklyn experimentalists Doveman and Stars Like Fleas, and his interpretive style to a series of increasingly vivid recordings with a diversity of artists. Now, just a year after releasing an album of sparse, drum-machine-rich reinterpretations of traditional appalachian songs, Sam has been signed to tiny Icelandic indie superlabel Bedroom Community, where he's poised to take the indiefolk world by storm with the full sound and moody, practically Bjork-like production of his upcoming solo release All Is Well.
Bloggers who know -- including stereogum, Motel de Moka, and Said the Gramophone -- use words like amazing and haunting and pretty fucking special to describe Sam's recent work, both as a solo artist and as Samamidon (with Popcorn Behavior cofounder Thomas "Doveman" Bartlett). They're not wrong: Amidon should be on the cusp of indie greatness. Though Sam's love of traditional folk tunes has not faded -- every song in his forthcoming work is in the public domain -- his approach to them is unique and experimental, favoring the kind of moody piano-and-strings wash-of-sound production which fills the indie airwaves these days. There's something of the careful, rich strumsounds and organmoods (and trumpets) of Sufjan Stevens and Jose Gonzales and Damien Jurado in here, and it's as stellar in in the young Sam as it is in his forefathers.
How nice to find another take on the banjo- and guitarstrings so rich, so powerful, so respectful of tradition. While we wait with baited breath for February, here's a few gorgeous covertunes from Sam, from the sparse to the orchestral: three from 2007 Samamidon release But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted, and three from the upcoming All Is Well. Plus a couple of pretty coversongs from his Mother's recent release Keys to the Kingdom, which Sam produced in between gigs.
Update: Stats show no one's downloading anything but the Tears For Fears cover below. I know it's tempting to just snag the song you're familiar with...but try at least one of the other Amidon covers, eh? Your ears will thank you.
- Samamidon, Head Over Heels (Tears for Fears)
- Samamidon, Louis Collins (trad. / Mississippi John Hurt)
- Samamidon, Tribulation (trad.)
- Sam Amidon, Fall on My Knees (trad.)
- Sam Amidon, Little Johnny Brown (trad. / Ella Jenkins)
- Sam Amidon, Saro (trad.)
- Mary Alice Amidon, Momma's Opry (Iris Dement)
- Mary Alice Amidon, Feel Like My Time Ain't Long (Essie Mae Brooks)
Get Sam Amidon's But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted while you wait for All Is Well to come out.
To support Sam in all his incarnations, plus a full breadth of young folkartists from alt-indie to rural country dancemusic, check out Assembly's new jazz-influenced January EP, too, which features Sam on Irish fiddle and Stefan on percussion, and the myspace pages of NYC indiefolker Doveman and experimental indiekids Stars Like Fleas.
Tradfolk fans will also enjoy Peter and Mary Alice's work, available via their website.
And see the Contra Corners map for the contradance nearest you -- you never know when one or more Amidons will show up to play the dance.
Today's bonus contradance coversongs:
- An adolescent Sam Amidon covers traditional fiddle tunes Miltown Girls and Slip Jig
- Piano and fiddle contraduo Fromseier Rose covers Popcorn Behavior (orig. Jay Ungar for Popcorn Behavior)
- See last week's feature on Bill Morrissey for a different take on Louis Collins
(Full disclosure: the Amidons were my wife's music teachers in elementary school; most of her immediate family has sung under Peter Amidon's direction. Nice folks, all around.)