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Sam Amidon Sam Amidon
Album: The Following Mountain
Label: Nonesuch
Tracks: 9
Website: http://www.samamidon.com

Vermont-born, London-based experimental folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Sam has so far released five albums: the most recent two of these in particular (2013's Bright Sunny South and 2014's Lily-O) provided a captivating and unique take on tradition-based folk music, one that's honestly not sounded like anyone else. For The Following Mountain, however, Sam reverts to original composition mode - albeit with some of his lyrics drawing on traditional sources. The album's nine tracks are actually very strange indeed, with twisting, turning melodies that often seem to obey no known structure or form either inside or outwith tradition.

Sam's innovative use of primarily acoustic instrumentation sets his music apart from almost anything else you're likely to hear - on this new album Sam takes us on a series of incredible adventures in sound, which he describes as "a personal mythology of sounds and visions and characters" but for much of the time is highly original and seems to bear almost no resemblance to traditional music as we know it. Sam's producer for this album was Leo Abrahams (who's worked with Brian Eno and Regina Spektor), and much of the intense percussion you hear is courtesy of guest drummer Milford Graves (veteran of 1960s free-jazz sessions with Albert Ayler and Sonny Sharrock) - notably on the enigmatic, unashamedly extended (12-minute) jamming improvisatory closing track April. Sam's own virtuosity brings unusual textures to the shorter tracks too. Fortune is like a fractured take on a Cordelia's Dad new-wave Appalachian ballad but with weird chordings and African kora embellishments; Ghosts is a dissonant, spare fiddle-weary world drone with clashing drum and cracked vocal wailings. Juma Mountain is closer to an archetypal ballad but one recalled in wistful, shimmering tranquillity, while Another Story Told is driven by ominous heartbeat and handclaps. Trouble In Mind is not the blues classic but a poundingly disturbed, nightmarish instrumental with a guitar figure that recalls Blackwaterside; Gendel In 5 (named after guest sax player Sam Gendel) has a floaty, shifting, part-electronic, almost Pink Floyd ambience; while the banjo-dappled Blackbird takes its cue from a traditional lyric which is offset by Sam's pained vocal and a distorted, irregular drum pattern.

The Following Mountain is an extraordinary, and extraordinarily intense and intimate musical experience, one you're not likely to forget in a hurry and one which you're likely to be compelled to revisit: "a walk through the thickets of the imagination" indeed.

David Kidman