The Following Mountain

Sam Amidon

Nonesuch Records, 2019

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Sam Amidon is an outlier. Even though his work operates very much within the confines of folk music in its truest self, his immensely creative renditions of public domain folk songs is one-of-a-kind and unconventional for any artist, let alone a genuine folk man like Amidon. On The Following Mountain, Amidon’s sixth release and his first one consisting of original compositions, he takes his experimental flair to the next level. The outcome is an all-encompassing mixed bag that’s messy, strange, beautiful, and daring.

The Following Mountain includes contributions from multi-instrumentalist Leo Abrahams, free jazz drummer Milford Graves, saxophonist Sam Gendel, drummer Chris Vatalaro, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, and Jimi Hendrix percussionist Juma Sultan. The resume of these musicians is deep and diverse, and it should come as no surprise that their presence adds an eccentric and colourful twist to this record, which is far from one’s picture of a folk album.

The disc opens with its most straightforward number “Fortune” with its mellow acoustic guitars and feathery pianos. This is an adorable folk track; its rough production, combined with its simplicity, exhibits the charm of performing around a campfire.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On the other hand, “Gendel In 5,” “Juma Mountain,” and “Warren,” make up the elaborate and refined side of the The Following Mountain. “Gendel In 5” sounds like a retro progressive rock-turned-jazz number, dominated by flutes and saxophone with a backdrop of jazzy drumming. “Juma Mountain” has a Nick Drake feel in its haunting composition as well as in Amidon’s singing style, but with a much more polished feel. “Warren,” the weirdest of the three, is down-tempo with plenty of complex ambient musical action going on in the background. It sounds like Talk Talk, circa Spirit Of Eden / Laughing Stock.

The instrumental “Trouble In Mind” is similarly ambient with muted instrumentation, including the muffled percussion. But the focus of the song is jaunty Appalachian acoustic guitar strumming and its warm fiddle accompaniment, which add an interesting and sunny folksy twist to this moody cut.

Without a doubt, the near 12-minute long instrumental “April” is where the The Following Mountain becomes the weirdest. In fact, the record falls off the deep end at this point, for this track is nothing but improvisational jamming without any structure, rhythm, or melody. It starts to drag in the first few minutes itself, making its infiniteness a challenge to sit through. Even though the song advertises the collaboration of Milford Graves as a part of the title itself, it is kind of irrelevant who performed on it. The only place for “April” will be on an avant-garde ambient album, where structured music is not to be expected; there is no denying that this cut makes no sense on The Following Mountain.

However, “Ghosts” (also featuring Graves), which is essentially a mishmash of noise created by different instruments – and at its core, very similar to “April” – fits in quite well with the experimental narrative of this disc as a cool musical piece. The only reason why “Ghosts” works is because its length of just over two minutes is appropriate.

Amidon has pushed the envelope of folk music so far on The Following Mountain in that it is an experimental record first, and only then a folk one. However, despite the scattered nature of this album, Amidon has held on to the genteelness and placidity of his brand of folk, which makes its eccentricities seem so pleasant. Really, the “mad scientist” in Amidon is nothing to be afraid of.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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