Sam Amidon

The Following Mountain

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Despite howling "I'm out of ideas" to open one of its tracks, The Following Mountain marks a notable change in approach for musical raconteur Sam Amidon. After establishing himself over the course of several albums as a reinterpreter of traditional folk tunes, this is his first record to consist entirely of original songs. He began the recording process with a largely improvised session with legendary jazz drummer Milford Graves, Jimi Hendrix percussionist Juma Sultan, and saxophonist Sam Gendel, along with frequent collaborator Shahzad Ismaily. He then met with producer Leo Abrahams (Regina Spektor, Paolo Nutini) to build songs out of segments of those recordings, with Amidon on occasion borrowing from public domain poems and songs for lyrics. ("Warren," for example, contains lyrics from a 17th century poem by Thomas Flatman). By nature of its creative process, the album has a more meandering character than much of his prior material, but still renders Amidon's ramshackle, instinctive-sounding style and elemental arrangements, which can make synthesizers and programming seem downright rustic in context ("Another Story Told"). Contributing to this impression are pre- and post-song studio clatter and commentary. "Juma Mountain" opens with the subtle hum of electronics before acoustic guitar, congas, bass, and eventually atmospheric electric guitar and drum kit set a sentimental mood as Amidon contemplates a moment in time. "Gendel in 5" is busier, with -- as indicated by the title -- complex time signatures and an extended saxophone solo dotted by harmonic passages built from voice, flutes, acoustic guitar, and synths. It maintains a reflective, almost haunting tone. The album does take a turn on the final track, "April," which consists of the final nearly 12 minutes of the initial hour-long jam session. In the liner notes, Amidon wrote of the song, "It's where we got to." With the possible exception of that improvisation, by combining his appreciation of both free jazz and Appalachian folk music, Amidon seems to be creating a traditional folk for the future.

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