Published Sep 30, 2014Sam Amidon has, for the most part, made a name for himself on other people's music. On past albums, the Vermont singer-songwriter has covered the likes of Tears for Fears, Mariah Carey and even R. Kelly. By contrast, Lily-O, Amidon's latest, is more traditional fare — selections from the folk canon that detail the heartaches of God-fearing men — but it would be a mistake to dismiss the record as simply a rehash of old ideas.
Recorded live off the floor in Iceland with producer Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Rós), Lily-O gives new life to songs, tunes and stories far older than Amidon himself. While a few are straight reinterpretations, such as the handful of Doc Watson covers, others more resemble a collage, a vocal melody from one song matched with the lyrics from another, sung atop an original arrangement. The result is a mix of old-fashioned Americana (see banjo-led opener "Walkin' Boss" or the Bible-thumping "Won't Turn Back") and darker, more experimental alternative (try the atmospheric aesthetic and moaning, Eddie Vedder-like vocals of "Down the Line"). Though Amidon's voice maintains a static dynamic and somewhat monotonous timbre, the opposite is true of the instrumentation. Innovative guitar licks flutter in and out of the nine-minute title track; fiddle flares punctuate vocal phrases on "Blue Mountains"; and unexpected synths cap off "Pat Do This, Pat Do That."
Despite their origins, the tracks on Lily-O feel entirely contemporary, buoyed by crisp production and the creative chemistry of Amidon and his band. He may not have written these songs, per se, but under his direction, they are contemplative, nuanced and moving in a way that's entirely his own doing. (Nonesuch)