Sam Amidon, Alessi's Ark

Born in 1981 and raised in Vermont by folk-musician parents, Sam Amidon sings and plays fiddle, banjo, and guitar. As a teenager, Amidon rose to acclaim as a fiddler, releasing five albums with his band Popcorn Behavior. A musician who glides through unlikely set of genres from traditional folk to free jazz, Amidon has released four solo albums, and also plays in the New York-based indie-rock bands Doveman and Stars Like Fleas. After a seven-year stint in New York City, Amidon has been fully itinerant since 2008 as he tours and collaborates with a roster of renowned musicians, including Shahzad Ismaily, Nico Muhly, Thomas Bartlett, Ben Frost, and Valgeir Sigurðsson.

His second solo album of songs, But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted was a collaboration with Thomas Bartlett (a.k.a. Doveman). Amidon quickly followed this with his second album, All Is Well, released by Bedroom Community in 2008. All Is Well was produced by Valgeir Sigurðsson, with orchestral arrangements by Nico Muhly and contributions from Stefan Amidon, Ben Frost, Eyvind Kang, and Aaron Siegel. In 2009, Amidon debuted Muhly's reworked folk composition “The Only Tune” at Carnegie Hall, a composition also appearing on Muhly's 2009 Bedroom Community album Mothertongue. Amidon also released the 2009 LP Fiddle and Drum, featuring free improvisation with Siegel.

On Amidon's new release, I See The Sign, he works with old-time melodies and lyrics as a starting point for creating atmosphere. His long-time collaborator, Shahzad Ismaily – a multi-instrumentalist and composer who has worked with a diverse range of musicians including Laurie Anderson, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Jolie Holland, Rage Against the Machine, Lou Reed, and Tom Waits – proved foundational to the creation of I See The Sign. The album features three children's singing games popularized by Georgia Sea Islands songstress Bessie Jones, recomposed by Amidon to expose maturity and unease. Each of Amidon's albums has shone with the care and support offered by his collaborators, and never is this clearer than on the sweeping epic of I See The Sign.

Amidon draws comics and makes videos. His work has shown in the galleries Kuhturm in Leipzig, Audio Visual Arts in New York City, and in a multimedia performance at New York's Museum of Art and Design.

Alessi's Ark

"Oh, by now, I must have grown”, Alessi Laurent-Marke croons beautifully, four songs into her stunning sophomore album Time Travel. And hasn't she just - not yet 21 but already a seasoned pro, having recorded her debut album aged just 17, with members of Bright Eyes, and touring with the likes of Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons and Brighton cult faves the Willkommen Collective. “Time Travel” is the first Alessi's Ark album since signing to Bella Union, where her acutely melodic and exquisitely tender folk-pop charms haven't just grown; they've blossomed into something extraordinarily mature.

And that's not all Alessi's talents. Drummer, fanzine writer, exhibited artist, expert knitter. She might never have sung and written songs if she hadn't had to compose a song for her school music course. Growing up in Hammersmith in West London, Alessi had discovered music through her mum's copy of Graham Nash's much-loved folky (and aptly named) “Songs for Beginners”, but drums were her first calling after watching White Stripes' Meg White thump away. Fired up, she launched the Brain Bulletin fanzine (which still exists as a blog). But her music entry 'Glendora' was so strong - good enough to make her EMI/Virgin album debut Notes From The Treehouse.

Before then, she'd released the 2007 EP Bedroom Bound herself under the name Alessi's Ark so there was no confusion with '70s soft-rockers The Alessi Brothers. "I liked the idea of a boat”, she says, "where everybody is welcome, even friends that are geographically far away - we are together”.

The first Ark inhabitants were Notes from the Treehouse producer Mike Mogis, with Bright Eyes' Nate Walcott and Neva Dinova's Jake Bellows also on the session. But EMI's financial dip saw her free of her deal, and when it became clear Alessi and Bella Union were mutual fans, she soon found her spiritual home.

Intimacy is the key not just to Time Travel's sound but also its soul. “This is a collection of songs that have mostly grown from travelling and touring, away from the familiarity of home, family and friends.”

The experience of recording Time Travel - in Brighton's Electric Studios with Wilkommen Collective's Marcus Hamblett and at Bryn Derwen in Wales with David Wrench (Beth Orton, Bat for Lashes) - gave the album its name. "In Brighton, we did 12 hour days and had no idea what was going on in the outside world. In Wales, there was no phone signal, and it felt far away from everything.”

The 12-track Time Travel keeps alternating between anxiety and joy, between childlike wishes and grown-up truths - how change can force us apart but also signify growth. 'Run' acknowledges that you must let friends go, "to chase their dreams, even if it takes them away from you”. 'Wire' imagines a man who knows he hasn't chased his dreams, and time is running out.

The album's one cover version, Lesley Gore's 1965 smash 'Maybe I Know', is a classic from the '60s girl-group glory days of teen angst disguised as sweet and innocent pop. "On the surface, the song is very pretty but the lyrics are very sad and dark”.

The cover of Time Travel is Alessi in an ice cream van, which she discovered in Morecombe after playing in nearby Lancaster. “Those old towns are like the land that time forgot, and I got talking to the owner of this beautiful ice cream van, she had a wartime haircut and a beautiful dress and I couldn't work out where she'd landed from. I later contacted her about having the van on the cover and she was up for it”.

Such is Alessi's ability to look for the good in others and hold out hope for the rest of us. Oh, and one more fact; with her mum, nan and aunt, she runs a little cottage industry knitting bags for every item sold through her website. Where indeed has Alessi landed from? Be prepared to be transported.

Miranda Lee Richards


“Courtney Taylor from the Dandy Warhols calls my genre ‘Pixie Fairy Dust Chick Music,’” Miranda Lee Richards laughs, from her home in Los Angeles. “But I think another fitting description for Light of X might be ‘Psychedelic Chamber Folk Rock.’”

Richards grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of Ted and Teresa Richards, stars of the underground comics revolution. Her father created The 40 Year Old Hippie; her mother was one of the founding editors and contributors of Wimmin’s Comix in the 1970’s. “Growing up, I got the message that if you do what you love to do, money will follow, just not a lot of it.” It was a very Bohemian upbringing to put it lightly.

Richards played in school bands and sang in choir, but never considered music as a profession until her senior year of high school, when fate offered a unique hand. Her best friend began dating Kirk Hammett of Metallica, and Hammett taught Richards a few songs on guitar. “As soon as I knew how to play, I started writing songs and immediately loved the combination of the two art forms. Eventually I got a piano to expand my musical repertoire.”

Richards recorded her first demo in Hammett’s basement studio. The then manager of the Brian Jonestown Massacre passed the recording along to singer Anton Newcombe, who asked Richards to sing with the group. Shortly thereafter, Ondi Timoner began filming the BJM for her seminal documentary DIG! (2004). In one scene, a hiker observed the all white-clad members of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and friends gathered on a mountain top location. “Excuse me,” he asked, “is this a cult or a photo shoot?” Miranda then candidly replied, “Honestly sir, I don’t know the answer to that question!”

Miranda had since moved down the coast to LA to further pursue a music career. “I played clubs and open mics while I did odd modeling jobs and made demos. A mutual friend introduced me to Rick Parker (producer/musician who went on to work with BRMC and The Von Bondies), and we’ve been working together ever since.” After recording a few sets of demos, she signed with Virgin, and began tracking her debut, The Herethereafter.

The Herethereafter (credits include Jon Brion and David Campbell) enjoyed critical acclaim, and a heavy film and TV licensing history allowed her to continue playing music full time. Since it’s release, Miranda has collaborated in the studio or on stage with Tricky, Tim Burgess (Charlatans), Neil Halstead (Mojave Three), Tyler Hilton, Harper Simon, and the Jesus and Mary Chain. She joined The Jesus and Mary Chain for the West Coast leg of their 2007 tour, singing duets with Jim Reid on “Sometimes Always” and “Just like Honey.” In the fall of 2007, she toured the UK in support of a vinyl single ,“Life Boat” released on Sonic Cathedral, which went on the receive regular radio play on KCRW Los Angeles, and the BBC London. In early 2008, she supported Tim Finn (Crowded House), and in late August she supported Neil Halstead (Mojave 3), both on solo acoustic tours. Miranda has also shared the stage and opened for a diverse array of artists such as the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Grant Lee Philips, The Black Angels, The Hounds Below (Von Bondies), Ride, Josh Kelly, The Warlocks, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Nikka Costa, Susan Vega, Tift Meritt, and various artists on the 2010 Lilith Fair tour. Her critically acclaimed full-length sophomore effort, Light of X, was released February 10, 2009 on Nettwerk Records. An independent single released in July of 2012, “The Reach”, has enjoyed some time in the spotlight, appearing on the television shows Burn Notice, and Army Wives, and Beauty and the Beast. Miranda has just finished her third studio album, Echoes of the Dreamtime, which is awaiting release in the fall of 2013.

Her albums fairly shimmer with folk, country, psychedelic, and even classical influences. Richards and Parker always assemble a top-notch group of players, but also play many of the instruments themselves. On Echoes of the Dreamtime, Rick Parker produced, engineered, mixed the record, and played acoustic and electric guitar, organ, piano, and mandolin; Richards composed the material including string arrangements, and played acoustic and electric guitar, piano, organ, recorder, Mellotron, and glockenspiel.

As a songwriter, Richards has an uncanny knack of finding the diamonds in the dust of every day life and the relationships within. She’s able to look at an average moment and describe it in a way that transforms it into something much more evocative. Richards' music balances her signature beautiful, close to the heart vocals, with music that has the wide open, spacious feel of a desert sky or an empty church. Call it 'Dream Folk' or Richards’ self coined term ‘Psychedelic Chamber Folk’ if you like, her music is full of love and loss, desolation, salvation, and transformation.

Even the darkest shadow is cast by the light.



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