Sam Amidon

Nonesuch Records releases Sam Amidon’s label debut, Bright Sunny South, on May 14. Produced by Amidon with his childhood friend and longtime collaborator Thomas Bartlett (a.k.a. Doveman) and legendary English engineer Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club, Vashti Bunyan, R.E.M.) and recorded in London, the record features a band made up of Bartlett and multi-instrumentalists Shahzad Ismaily and Chris Vatalaro. Jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler also makes a cameo. Amidon himself not only sings but also plays banjo, fiddle, acoustic guitar, and piano on the album.

Amidon describes Bright Sunny South as a “a lonesome record” and a return to the more spare sound of his 2007 self-recorded debut, But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted: “There was an atmospheric quality to my last two records; those albums are like a garden of sounds,” says Amidon, “but this one is more of a journey, a winding path. The band comes rushing in and then they disappear. It comes from more of a darker, internal space.”

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A longtime admirer of Boys’ work, Amidon was particularly enamored of his recordings with Martin Carthy in the 1970s, as well as the Ali Farka Touré/Toumani Diabaté duet albums on World Circuit/Nonesuch: “Those are so beautiful. I listened to all of that. I loved the sense of documentation, the unadorned quality. Everything sounded so clear.”
The Vermont-born and raised, London-based Amidon is known for his reworking of traditional melodies into a new form. In addition to country ballads and shape-note hymns, Bright Sunny South features interpretations of traditional and contemporary songs, including Tim McGraw’s “My Old Friend” and Mariah Carey’s “Shake It Off.” The record also includes a version of “Weeping Mary,” a shape-note hymn that his parents, Peter and Mary Alice Amidon, had recorded with the Vermont-based Word of Mouth Chorus for Nonesuch Records on the 1977 disc Rivers of Delight: American Folk Hymns from the Sacred Harp Tradition. (See the complete Bright Sunny South track list below.)

Bright Sunny South follows 2010’s critically acclaimed I See the Sign, which earned Amidon praise from SPIN for his “quirky alchemy…contrasting pretty sounds with violent lyrical undercurrents” and Pitchfork, which said, “[Amidon’s] interpretations are so singular that it stops mattering how (or if) they existed before.”

Prior to I See the Sign, which was released on the Iceland-based label Bedroom Community, Amidon released But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted (Plug Research, 2007) and All Is Well (Bedroom Community, 2008). In addition to his solo albums, Amidon has collaborated on performances pieces with musical polymath Nico Muhly, toured as part of Thomas Bartlett’s group Doveman and the Brooklyn band Stars Like Fleas, collaborated with Beth Orton, and embarked on a series of live shows with the guitarist Bill Frisell.

Travel, adventure and personal revelation mark the new album by singer-songwriter Alessi Laurent–Marke of Alessi’s Ark. The Still Life is a work both lucid and heartbreakingly lovely, a sonic landscape that roams a wide range of emotions, with (as the songwriter explains), “Nature and love, as common threads”.

”I wanted to create a musical landscape that varied in sound,” Laurent-Marke says, “but an overriding feeling of ‘stillness’ remained throughout the album. I also wanted to step back from playing acoustic guitar and immerse the songs in very different sound settings from previous recordings.”

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Only a few short years into her career, the London-based Laurent-Marke – who began playing music and launched a fanzine, Brain Bulletin, during her secondary school years in West London – is already prolific: her first, self-released EP, 2007’s Bedroom Bound, garnered the then-teenage artist a major label deal and attention around the globe.
A debut album soon followed, with Laurent-Marke heading to Omaha, Nebraska to record with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, The Faint, Rilo Kiley). The resulting Notes from the Treehouse (EMI/Virgin, 2009) was a testament to both Laurent-Marke’s evolving talents and to her affinity with a new wave of American singer/songwriters.

Her most recent release, 2011’s Time Travel, was praised by the press, with MOJO swooning, “The understated arrangements suggest you’re listening to a woman with impeccable taste…”, and The Washington Post remarking, “The quick hit nature and variety of styles suggest many pleasant paths for Alessi’s Ark to travel in the future”.

Now only 22, Laurent-Marke continues to explore. The last few years have seen tours through England and across the Continent – supporting artists including Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Villagers, and Laura Veirs – with the young singer backed by a cast of musical collaborators, her own ‘Alessi’s Ark.’ These adventures fueled the creative inspiration for what would become The Still Life.

To record the album, Laurent-Marke returned again to America, to the small town of Athens, Georgia and the studio of producer Andy LeMaster (of Now It’s Overhead), who has worked with everyone from Bright Eyes to The Drive-By Truckers.

“I had heard brilliant things about Andy as a person, from musicians I’d met while recording the first album in Omaha,” says Laurent–Marke, “and I felt extremely fortunate to spend time together and work so closely on this album. He brought some very gifted, beautiful musicians on board and I was moved by their warmth in Athens.”

That warmth is all over The Still Life: in the shimmering production, in the players’ performances and in the slow, sweet syrup sway that underlies all the album tracks. You can hear summer in these songs, almost see the fireflies and the Spanish moss hanging lazy from the oaks.

“The phrase ‘the still life’ has always resonated with me,” says Laurent-Marke of the album’s title. “In my mind ‘The Still Life’ is what we’re all aiming for, the chapter in our lives that we find peace and understanding, within us and in our surroundings.”

That feeling of peace, or the desire for it, threads through each of the album’s tracks. There is a comforting singsong undulation on tracks like “Veins are Blue,” “Mountain,” and “Money”. “The Rain” captures the calm disconnect that comes with travel, the feel of passing landscapes set to the whistle and roll of train tracks rhythms. On songs like The National-cover “Afraid of Everything”, Laurent-Marke goes deliciously dark and deep, embracing a spooky western swing that calls to mind flames licking at black night and low howls at a high moon.

The latter, along with the magical “Sans Balance” (which boasts lyrics in both French and English), are the only two tracks recorded outside of Athens. Enlisting Brit producer Nic Nell in South London, Laurent-Marke’s found a perfect match to LeMaster, two producers creating sound that brings the album together as a united whole.

In the end, The Still Life is Laurent-Marke coming into her own, finding a place at the center of her inspirations that reflects the truest parts of herself. And from the sound of it, that’s a very good place to be.

“I hope that this album is good company for the listener,” says Laurent-Marke, “ I tried to create something that would leave them happy, leave them with a feeling of peace. To me, the best thing an album can be is a friend you can rely on.”

The New Heaven and The New Earth

The New Heaven and The New Earth centers around the compositions of Roger Alejandro Martinez and the production work of Jeffrey Russ. Joined by violinist/vocalist Shaina Kapeluck, the trio creates melancholy chamber-pop with flourishes of psychedelic folk, contemporary classical and electronic music.

The group began when Martinez and Russ began collaborating on the basis of a shared love of Mahler, Brian Wilson and Delia Derbyshire. The result, The New Heaven & The New Earth’s debut EP “All Saints’ Day,” a is a collection of songs dealing with mythology, madness and mortality. The EP was released on vinyl in 2010 by Philadelphia based label Edible Onion. The follow up, 2012′s Ricorso EP, found Russ, who studied cello performance and electroacoustic music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, embellishing Martinez’s compositions with increasingly intricate arrangements and adventurous production techniques.

As a live unit, the group distills their expansive sound into a comprehensive and concise musical experience, replete with strings, synths and vocal harmonies. Accompanist Shaina Kapeluck adds her experience with the complex, dissonant harmonies of Georgian choral music and Scandinavian fiddle traditions to Martinez and Russ' vision. In addition to touring several times throughout the US and Canada, New Heaven has performed on the world renowned independent radio station WFMU and for Chicago’s RedEye video sessions. The group is currently working on new material that seeks ever bolder sonic terrain without abandoning the immediacy of song craft.

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Sam Amidon with Alessi's Ark, The New Heaven and The New Earth

Sunday, June 16 · Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM at Johnny Brenda's