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Sam Amidon channels Mariah Carey at the Ottawa Folk Fest

By Ryan Saxby Hill on September 8, 2013

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Buried in the lineup for this year’s folk festival is Sam Amidon, the super-cool indie folk artist. It’s great that the festival got him (and also his wife, Beth Orton too!) since it’s an opportunity for folk-loving Ottawans to experience the diversity of the modern scene with an artist whose work is hauntingly emotionally and musically intricate.

I loved Amidon’s 2010 record I saw the sign and went through a period of binge listening to the title track when it came out.

The new record, Bright Sunny South, is equally impressive and confirms Amidon’s credibility as an independent and interesting musical voice. Amidon refers to his new album as an “internal brain diary” as it winds through a diverse set of sounds, highlighting a range of stories and emotions.

At a time when the folk fest is spreading its wings into pop, hip hop and other acts that some might not place the folk monicker on, Amidon is a one-man justification for the diversity in the line-up. In a chat earlier this summer, Amidon spoke of his history with folk music, having two parents who were part of the community and growing up attending festivals, performing and being generally immersed in the folk culture.

Amidon pulls from this experience for his new record, adding a traditional folk hymn to the tracking listing, but he goes further by exposing a willingness to embrace diversity and strong songwriting wherever he finds it. “I’m not setting out to make an album of folk songs; I’m just setting out to sing for 40 minutes” said Amidon, pointing to his willingness to capture interesting and compelling sounds wherever they might be found – from his childhood past, to the Emancipation of MiMi.

Amidon covers Mariah Carey on Bright Sunny South and told me that “she’s one of the best musicians of our time.” The track Shake it Off is taken fully out of its original form, which Amidon believes is a way to help explore the emotional context of the words of the track.

“It captured something about an internal state of emotional affairs that I found very powerful” said Amidon.

Shake is Off feels perfectly at home within this album of traditional folk hymns, as does another cover from Tim McGraw. “It’s taking some of those melodies and themes and divorcing them from that context” said Amindon. The tracks have a new life on Amidon’s record, and resonate with a substantively different tone.

“What people think of as folk music is always changing” said Amidon, pointing to the evolution from traditional folk music to singer-songwriters, to the greater range we’re seeing now.

Amidon is playing Sunday, September 8 at the Ottawa Folk Fest. His latest album Bright Sunny South is available on Nonesuch.