A through-line of Sam Amidon's musical output to date has been his passion for traditional Appalachian folk music, reinterpreting songs as old as dirt with lively new arrangements and performances that maintain the intimacy of the original vernacular styles he draws from. Notably, then, The Following Mountain is his first album of original songwriting, but the beautiful style that he has cultivated for years is intact, and the writing, full of quaint natural imagery, will feel familiar to fans.
Following his lushly orchestrated collaborations for Bedroom Community with then-labelmates Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurðsson, Amidon's Nonesuch releases have traded the neo-classical accompaniment for increasingly jazzy, improv-based content, including recent collaborations with Kenny Wheeler and Bill Frisell. The Following Mountain continues this mode, with saxophonist Sam Gendel, '60s free jazz drummer Milford Graves and Jimi Hendrix percussionist Juma Sultan.
Amidon is also developing a fondness for unusual rhythms: the guitar part in "Fortune" is based on a hemiola pattern; "Gendel in 5" is in 5/4. "Another Story Told" is a weird one, with a slow electronic drumbeat in 3/4, but an acoustic guitar part that can be counted as 13/4 or one bar of 6 and one bar of 7. All these numbers add up to an impression that Amidon aims to push musical boundaries and challenge listeners.
"April," featuring Milford Graves, ends the album with a long free-jazz odyssey driven by the rhythm section, but Amidon's acoustic guitar and fiddle keep us somewhat grounded. While some of this album's material might seem pretentious or esoteric, Amidon's strengths — his musicianship, rustic voice and taste for innovative arrangements — still shine through. (Nonesuch)