Sam Amidon

Bright Sunny South

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Modern folksinger Sam Amidon's sound is an eternally open-hearted one, with optimism coming through in even the most desperate of his tunes. With Bright Sunny South, Amidon continues his trend of reworking and rearranging mostly traditional folk tunes, translating their rustic tones into a richly orchestrated, indie, chamber pop language and in a way, extending their journey of being passed down through the generations. The songs are lovely to begin with, masterfully selected from an endless canon of obscure mountain ballads and country hymns, but Amidon's pristine arrangements are the voice of the album, often brimming with unexpected shifts and subtleties. "He's Taken My Feet" is a prime example, beginning with a spare guitar and voice, slowly joined by hints of trumpet, understated fretless bass, and other elements until the song, very gradually, grows to a burning climax of dissonant guitars, synths, and explosive drums. It sneaks up out of nowhere, as do many of the gentler arrangements. And as much as Jason Molina's vocals sounded like a dead ringer for Will Oldham on the earliest Songs: Ohia records, Amidon sounds almost startlingly like Molina on tunes like "Short Life" and "Pharaoh." The strengths of Amidon's albums are their vivid clarity, with lush arrangements and colorful choices of instrumentation breathing new life into dusty old songs. The hollering web of throaty vocals, banjo, and steadfast drums on "As I Roved Out" is great evidence of this gift, as he approaches the meandering story song with a fresh-faced perspective. As with many of Amidon's other albums, his take on a more contemporary R&B number is slipped in among the traditional public domain material. This time it's a ghostly rendition of Mariah Carey's "Shake It Off." Stripped of rhythm, sass, bounce, and all but a sorrowful croon and slight piano, the song takes on a truly heartbroken feel. Bright Sunny South doesn't stray too far from Amidon's previous work, but still suggests his development in its gorgeous production, increasingly deft arrangements, and a general sense of greater confidence and vision throughout the record.

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