Sam Amidon @ Jammin' Java - 6/22/15

Murder ballads, fiddle tunes, and a poem about Jimi Hendrix selling salmon…

A Sam Amidon show is a surreal mash-up of the old-fashioned and the hyper-modern. Touring for the recent release of his sixth album, Lily-O, Amidon brought all of these elements and more to the stage at Jammin’ Java last Monday night.

In a set which consisted, like his albums, primarily of re-workings of traditional songs (the notable exceptions being covers of Tim McGraw’s “My Old Friend,” which Amidon recorded on his 2013 album Bright Sunny South, and “Your Lone Journey” written by Rosa Lee Watson, wife of bluegrass legend Doc Watson, recorded by Amidon on Lily-O), Amidon provided his own unique take on the folk music genre. Throughout, he seemed like someone transported from another time – yet whether that time was the 18th century or the 23rd century might, at any moment, have been up for debate.

Sam Amidon bringing Appalachia into the future at Jammin' Java (photo by Matt Condon)

Throughout the night, Amidon switched ably between banjo, acoustic guitar, and fiddle, and was joined by frequent collaborator Shahzad Ismaily on bass, electric guitar, drums, and a Moog Rogue synthesizer. The result – Appalachian banjo tunes punctuated with jazz drums (a frantic version of “Blue Mountains”), country songs with ambient guitar effects behind them (“My Old Friend”), and roaring washes of white noise behind Amidon’s between-song banter – made a set that could easily have fallen into being old-fashioned instead feel unpredictable and fresh.

“It’s gospel hour, right now… for four minutes,” declared Amidon at one point before starting into the traditional shape-note hymn “Won’t Turn Back.” Yet what at first seemed like a fairly straightforward reading of an old religious song quickly turned bizarre as the guitar and bass wandered off into different keys and Amidon broke into a wild and somewhat tuneless Chet Baker-inspired scat solo, only to pull the song back to normalcy in time to get in one final verse and chorus. 

Local folk-rockers Aaron Tinjum and the Tangents opened the show.

All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.