Sam Amidon's third album for Nonesuch, The Following Mountain, is ostensibly his first of self-penned songs. But in his decade-long career as a recording artist, the singer and multi-instrumentalist has always managed to create work that's utterly original, even when, on previous discs, he was digging through the sounds and stories of traditional American music from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Though he cultivates the appearance of a folk singer with his shaggy hair, flannel shirts, and jeans, Amidon operates more like a freewheeling jazz improviser. He uses traditional material as a point of departure for his own melodic explorations; he reassembles time-worn lyrics into evocative new cut-and-pasted texts. On The Following Mountain, his affinity for the more experimental side of jazz, which he has admired as a fan since he was a teenager, explicitly informs these new pieces, several of which have their roots in an epic jam that Amidon and his long-time collaborator, the multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, organized at a Brooklyn recording studio last spring.
Patrick Dethlefs' songwriting crests like a humble Townes Van Zandt, innocent of his own haunting melodies and lyricism.