Episode 7: Bright Sunny South (Sam Amidon, 2013)
There’s something about the directness of Irish folk songs that appeals to me—not just the straightforward, vibrato-less vocal tone, but the matter-of-fact and deadpan presentation with which you might hear someone sing about, say, a man about to be hanged, or threats to break legs or cut off heads. A mouth of ivy, a heart of holly... and beat not around that green green bush.
While the dark lyrical content on Sam Amidon’s Bright Sunny South stops short of broken limbs and beheadings—well, there is a gallows theme in the song “Streets of Derry,” though, and spoiler alert for “Streets of Derry,” bucking tradition, it actually turns out just fine—anyway, while the lyrics herein don’t overly dark, that spare, unadorned vocal style I love so much is alive and well in Amidon.
You can hear it in the title track, a tale of a young man heading off to war, musket shoulder'd and sword belt'd, bidding farewell to his family and imploring them not to weep. All sentimentality is boiled off and just the sentiment remains. The poetry of the lines, sung well and plain, gives you everything you need and more.
He’s singing with an “inside voice,” so to speak, not just in the sense of quietude and gentleness, but in the sense of an avowed interiority. Where Amidon breaks from this mode most fully on the album—busting out his wailing “outside voice”—is, appropriately enough, on the song “As I Roved Out,” played here in duo with drummer Chris Vatalaro.
Presentation aside, this song too is not without its own share of interiority, telling the story of a brokenhearted man who happens to spy the girl who did the breaking, and then wallows in his sadness, wishing to the Lord that he'd never been born. Sure, the trampled grass will rise and bloom again, he thinks to himself. But love? It’s a killing thing. “Did you ever feel such pain?” The end.
Amidon is serious about tradition, and he has a great handle on digging up and interpreting old tunes, but he is quick to shake off any notion of being a folk purist, peppering the slew of reworked traditional tunes on this album with a pair of what you might gingerly call “modern folk melodies” by Mariah Carey and Tim McGraw.
In the album's notes, Amidon calls Bright Sunny South a sculpture garden of personal relics that he's collected over the years. I encourage you to stroll around the grounds and enjoy. There are, within this record, more gems than you can shake a shillelagh at.
I’m Josh Rutner, and that’s your album of the week.