Sam Amidon

Hugh's Room, Toronto ON, September 5

BY Jazz MonroePublished Sep 6, 2013

"Basically," begins Sam Amidon, goofily well-postured, scattily composed, "the way the record came about was... Jimi Hendrix spoke to me from the grave... and said, 'Can you make a round album?'"

If you've not already, please be pleased to meet folk's most charming eccentric. A product of years of touring Europe and the U.S., alone or with his Bedroom Community comrades, Sam Amidon's live show entertains relentlessly. There is whistling — avant-whistling, you might call it — with rapid-fire trills and flutters. There are ill-fated acoustic-guitar solos, which Amidon scuffs frequently enough that we laugh (but not so often that we crave a virtuoso), and which sometimes marry their pseudo-shredding with exuberant Eastern scat. You'll find stand-ups that induce less (and less sincere) laughter, and none with the spiritual warmth.

Given the formal surroundings of Hugh's Room (everyone is seated at candlelit, crimson-sheeted dinner tables; waiters stride past carrying gourmet leftovers) it is baffling that Amidon's early request that we sing along to "Way Go Lily" gets so hearty a response; not a begrudging murmur, but the kind of sing-along you feel shameful not joining with — a real school assembly effort.

Yet for all the frippery and showmanship, Amidon's surest skills and sensibilities are musical, and when he prefaces his plaintive take on a wonderfully naive R. Kelly song, "Relief," by noting that "Even the parts that aren't true, sometimes it's good to sing them," you think: Here is a man who understands pop music completely.

Though Amidon exhibits mastery of the guitar, banjo and violin throughout the set — not to mention on new album Bright Sunny South — his passion steams way beyond technique and onward to somewhere playful and intuitive and beaming. His songs are fragile and reverent, but reverent less toward people or the church than toward songs themselves — the tradition, the lineage, just the idea of songs. There's really no simpler endorsement than to summarize that, having slipped from his mouth, Amidon's tunes and interpretations seem happier to be in the world, and his listeners happier for having them.

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