Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not Done.

I spoke too soon about Sam Amidon: Monsieur Sam’s label finally got back to me after all, & w/a top-secret download code for the whole album. So I got it now. As anticipated, I See the Sign is an interesting collection of sort of re-imagined archaic-American music pieces. Folk songs. But not really.

Most of the songs on the album are credited as traditional, public domain, albeit “recomposed” by our Mr. A. Except, notably, for the R. Kelly cover (“Relief”), which believe it or not meshes pretty seamlessly with the extemporized ballads, hymns, shanties, & (I think) jump-rope rhymes here.

Sam’s arrangements are satisfyingly spare; he leaves a comfortable amount of breathing room around & w/in the songs. At the same time, his instrumentation draws from a fairly broad palette, adding narrative emphasis to the sung stories, & adding harmonic richness to the sometimes-skeletal melodies. There are some almost-lush string & woodwind textures here & there, surprisingly evocative of Aaron Copland, of all things. I didn’t expect that! Here’s why I think that’s interesting: Mr. A is actually straddling a couple of very different artistic traditions here.

On the one hand, he positions himself as a Folk practitioner. Which, to my understanding, makes him an inheritor of (mostly) oral traditions, a performer of songs handed down w/out clear provenance of authorship, & whose structure is collective, fluid, fairly open to interpretation.

On the other hand, “serious” (i.e., academically-trained) composers have their own longstanding “tradition” of helping themselves to the local, rustic musical dialect, extrapolating freely from it, & creating “high” Art.

Sam Amidon seems to me to engage in both of these realms, maybe w/out fully inhabiting either of them. So, is he the country mouse or the town mouse? The lack of an easy or comfortable answer to that question is, itself, reason to find this artist interesting.

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