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Sam Amidon – Bright Sunny South

on May 24, 2013, 12:02am
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As a child growing up in Vermont, Sam Amidon used to listen in as his parents and their friends partook in the American tradition of shape-note singing: a centuries-old form of music involving neighbors gathering to harmonize folksongs sans accompaniment. Now 31, Amidon frequently recalls hearing these first songs he ever knew, and in doing so re-imagines them into formations so wildly different that they’re sometimes unrecognizable. On his seventh LP, Bright Sunny South, Amidon scores again by taking these traditionals – with a couple modern covers thrown in – and stripping them of their inherent familiarity in favor of melodies and arrangements that match the complexity of his long relationships with them.

Amidon sounds equally curious about the songs he picked up from his parents as he is about those he picked up from the radio; so naturally, juxtaposition plays a huge role in this album. There are bright and sunny covers of darker traditionals, such as the Confederate Civil War song from which the album takes its title, or “I Wish I Wish”, an optimistic, fluffed-up spin on a folksong about the struggles of paternity. So too are there bleaker takes on pop songs, including “Shake It Off”, which is only discernible as a Mariah Carey cover from its lyrics and nothing else.

In Amidon’s fantastically strange music video for “As I Roved Out”, he’s seen wandering the woods with his guitar, seemingly lost but not too worried about it. It’s an image that Bright Sunny South’s 11 songs evoke time and again: a man on a long walk allowing his surroundings to distract him and stimulate old memories, which always retain the same images but take on completely different meanings with time.

Essential songs: “I Wish I Wish”, “As I Roved Out”, and “Weeping Mary”

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