Sam Amidon’s third album for Nonesuch, The Following Mountain, is ostensibly his first of self-penned songs. But in his decade-long career as a recording artist, the singer and multi-instrumentalist has always managed to create work that’s utterly original, even when, on previous discs, he was digging through the sounds and stories of traditional American music from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Though he cultivates the appearance of a folk singer with his shaggy hair, flannel shirts, and jeans, Amidon operates more like a freewheeling jazz improviser. He uses traditional material as a point of departure for his own melodic explorations; he reassembles time-worn lyrics into evocative new cut-and-pasted texts. On The Following Mountain, his affinity for the more experimental side of jazz, which he has admired as a fan since he was a teenager, explicitly informs these new pieces, several of which have their roots in an epic jam that Amidon and his long-time collaborator, the multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, organized at a Brooklyn recording studio last spring.
Accepting invitations to that session, much to Amidon’s delight, were the legendary percussionist Milford Graves, acclaimed for his work in the 1960s with free jazz greats Albert Ayler, Sonny Sharrock, and Paul Bley, among others; fellow percussionist Juma Sultan, perhaps best known for accompanying Jimi Hendrix in the studio and on stage at the Woodstock Festival; and the young saxophonist Sam Gendel of the Los Angeles–based meditative jazz collective Inga. A distillation of that jam, sculpted into twelve intense minutes, serves as the culmination of The Following Mountain. Called “April,” the track represents the cacophonous start of the creative journey Amidon began in 2016—a “wander through the imagination,” as he calls it—while also serving as the dramatic final statement on this innovatively assembled album.
“After making Lily-O, I was very aware that I had come to an end of a process in terms of material,” Amidon explains, referencing the 2014 album of reworked folk songs he recorded at the Icelandic studio of engineer Valgeir Sigurosson in collaboration with guitarist Bill Frisell. “It was a moment to take stock of what was around if you took that away. That’s what drove this record. I really intentionally started from zero. The way I made those other records was by doing my own guitar parts, melodies, and compositions, and then adding in the folk songs. This time I sort of tricked myself into thinking I was making a folk-songs record—then I just never added any folk songs. I started from the same place, but instead of finding a melody I would hum my own melody. This was the first time I wrote all the music this way, and eventually I had a whole record.”
Key to the process of shaping The Following Mountain was British producer Leo Abrahams, a protégé of Brian Eno, whose approach to record-making matches Amidon’s unique collagist sensibility. At a London studio last summer, Abrahams helped Amidon build the entire album from the ground up. They isolated and reconfigured sounds culled from the springtime jam Amidon and Ismaily had put together to use as its foundation. Says Amidon, “The last track, ‘April,” is like the forest, and all the other tracks are the details of flowers you might find there. You’ve fallen into some crazy thicket but all the elements of the last track are the elements that I’ve used to make the other songs.”
Abrahams eagerly plunged right into that thicket: “Leo would listen to Milford’s drums, for example, and hear an opportunity in there. He finds a rhythm and asks ‘Do you have anything for this?’ and all of a sudden a song is growing. He would say, ‘Here is a sound, what can we do with it to make it interesting?’ That’s very good for an artist. Leo was very freeing that way. “ He also guided Amidon toward the digital corollary to Amidon’s compositional cutting and pasting. “There’s a lot of saxophone from Sam Gendel, but it’s me taking a snippet and playing it on an Ableton pad. I don’t interact with that world at all but Leo has a very tactile way of dealing with all that stuff. So I hope that helps to retain a sense of spontaneity.”
Max García Conover is a songwriter & one-man band based in Maine. He grew up in New York and started writing songs while making his living as a busker in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2007. He's since put out new music at a furious pace while touring the US, Canada, Ireland, & Spain; sharing the stage with Justin Townes Earle, The Weather Station, Frontier Ruckus, Jim Lauderdale, and many others; and releasing a new song each week through Patreon.
7pm doors – 8pm show | $12 adv. – $15 day of