“Pretty Polly” with a chugging rhythm that hints at krautrock?
Roots music never fails to surprise.
Vermont native Sam Amidon continues an experimental approach to his craft on his latest, a self-titled LP for Nonesuch. Over nine takes on traditional folk, Amidon challenges the constructs of what listeners might typically expect from roots songs.
Take the aforementioned “Pretty Polly,” which moves along over a steady drumbeat and is punctuated by dashes of noise and clattering instrumentation. Here, Amidon and his bandmates recall Wilco a la 2004’s A Ghost is Born or even last year’s Ode to Joy. It’s all fitting, as the dark atmospherics perfectly match the deathly serious lyrics of one of the great murder ballads.
It’s a cacophony. It’s a swirl. And this album’s most-interesting tracks are those that whirl all the parts into a maddening palette.
For instance, on “Cuckoo,” Amidon’s plucking banjo fuses with woodwinds to imagine a bird calling.
“Oh the cuckoo, she’s a pretty bird,” Amidon sings through a thicket of noise. “She warbles as she flies.”
Throughout the record, Amidon’s distinctive voice delivers, never overpowering and consistently ceding to his team of talented players, including his wife, the singer-songwriter Beth Orton, on backing vocals.
The too-spare “Time Has Made a Change” perhaps is designed as a breather near the end of the album, especially after the beautiful dissonance found earlier. But with nothing except Amidon’s voice and guitar and some backing vocals, it proves lackluster and feels tacked-on, as if it is an after-thought.
By contrast, album standout “Light Rain Blues” — also a subdued track — is bolstered by a dull hum of studio magic. Subtle clamor simulates the moodiness of a slight drizzle, nagging and lingering.
Sometimes artists like Sam Amidon tend to slip through the cracks in the frenzy of the world. But this LP, full of delicate noise and artful sophistication, deserves a pause in a harried time.