Browsing the internet in early 2008, I stumbled across an off-kilter, folksy cover of one of my favorite songs, “Head Over Heels” by English duo Tears For Fears. Naturally, I was intrigued. Only a few weeks later did Sam Amidon release his sophomore effort, under the name Samamidon, All is Well, a collection of Appalachian standards that resemble his latest effort, Bright Sunny South. After taking a break with his producer partner, Thomas Bartlett, they’ve reunited for this new round of impressive variations of songs from Mariah Carey to Tim McGraw. Seemingly taking stabs at Americana allusions and dabbling in his storied honeypot for a more experimental take on pop contemporaries, he does so without stripping the songs completely of their original essence. It’s this talent that keeps Amidon all the more exciting.
The tension surrounding Bright Sunny South is felt straight from the get-go, with the fiddle and banjo, a constant companion of Amidon’s since his youth, are introduced in the title track like old friends, quietly rousing up the imminent descent in his mind. Deconstructing these dated limericks, his swiftness and ease results in a carefree fashion that is both appealing and envied. In “I Wish I Wish”, a song referencing a solider heading off to war and his own demise, Amidon manages to remove most of its sentiment, developing his own perspective as to its story ends. Again, “Short Life” projects the loneliness that’s felt throughout the record, but instead of reveling inside it, he’s simply passing through it, as if to only hold onto it for as long as the song needs. It’s his take on the McGraw classic “My Old Friend”, a song played dozens of times in my youth, that he resembles anything that could called “pop”. Amidon walks that fine line constantly, making few distinctions between the path of folk to the pop music, knowing that they are of the same branch, but instead of tackling them differently, he exudes the same precision.
“Pharaoh” might be his most daring effort on the album, simply for his use of guitar. Its presence reminds me of a mandolin, almost romantically, but without the aforementioned loneliness attached to it. The red herring is that it displays the versatility of Amidon’s talents, creating a contemporary version of a classic. “As I Roved Out” is jangly and distorted, embracing a looseness that is seldom heard on his usual tight arrangements. “Shake It Off”, a track from Mariah Carey’s 2005 comeback album The Emancipation of Mimi, displays a piano balladry that dissolves the playfulness of the original, even cutting out the a few lyrics out about Louis Vutton. On its own, it could pass for yet another vintage cover, only refuting any doubt that Amidon has an extensive knowledge of song structure and its ability to transcend origin. The album ends with “Weeping Mary”, a song covered by his parents four decades ago, and it allows Amidon to build his own distinctive output, simultaneously delivering a prayer and a rebuttal.
Sam Amidon doesn’t tend to shy away from a challenge. He references moments well before his conscious years and yet alludes he might have been there anyway. On some performers’ repertoires, certain covers could be distracting, especially considering their source, but unlike his peers’ outputs, Bright Sunny South doesn’t rely only on the interesting selections; instead, his music focuses on how he makes them his own.