Blog / Discover: Sam Amidon

Discover: Sam Amidon

Posted on 12 Jan 2017 by Leo Messias

Sam Amidon is a Vermont-born singer and multi-instrumentalist known for re-imagining public domain traditional American folk songs with his singularly modern touch, blending them with elements of bluegrass, jazz, Americana, and even indie rock.

A frequent collaborator of Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), Kronos Quartet and Glen Hansard, “Amidon is doing to folk what Arthur Russell did to disco and dance music: the components are taken context-free and mixed around. The result is compelling.” (Wondering Sound)

Sam’s penchant for Appalachian murder ballads fits perfectly with the themes that inspired Pekka Kuusisto’s programming choices for Murder & Redemption.

The Shaker hymn Simple Gifts – included in Aaron Copland’s influential classical work Appalachian Spring – complements the program alongside John Adams’ minimalist masterpiece Shaker Loops.

Both these songs speak to moral integrity and spirituality - redemptive qualities that provide a perfect counterpoint to the violence that surrounded the birth of American society, which is graphically depicted in Kedron, Way Go Lily, Wild Bill Jones and How Come That Blood, jewels of the folk repertoire rearranged by Nico Muhly and performed here by Sam, Pekka and the ACO.

Murder & Redemption thus takes us through a slice of the New World story as seen in so many films and books, and gives it a compelling new musical spin. Told from folk to classical music, it will bring the listener from the darkest places of the mind into the light.  

TRADITIONAL (arr. Muhly) Kedron

Incarceration, physical abuse, social ostracism...they all led to a common theme in sermons and hymns of the time – the need for patience. It’s a sentiment captured in the traditional song Kedron, originally published in Charles Wesley’s Short Hymns of 1762, and then transported along with the religious exiles to the New World, where it first appeared in a South Carolina publication in 1799. From then on, Kedron became a frequent entrant in folksong and hymn compilations right through the 19th century, its lyrics so simple, speaking of the inevitability of death and of Christ’s exemplary patience as he died on the Cross.

TRADITIONAL (arr. Muhly) Way Go Lily

Way Go Lily is essentially a children’s game-song from the slavery-days in the Old South. And like so much folk music emerging from that brutal environment, its upbeat, playful melody deliberately masks its strident call for resistance and rebellion. A game-song superficially but explicit in its intention to turn the tables on the slave-masters, first with a hickory and then with a shotgun. 

TRADITIONAL (arr. Muhly) Wild Bill Jones

The playfulness of Way Go Lily gives way to Wild Bill Jones, a classic that represents one of the defining genres of British and American folk music – the murder ballad. This is a simple folk version of the sexual jealousy tale depicted in literary form in Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata. The song’s protagonist is out walking one day when he encounters his girl in the arms of Wild Bill Jones. He asks the suitor to desist, Wild Bill refuses, and so a weapon is drawn, not the ‘curved Damascan dagger’ of Tolstoy, but a revolver. And that’s that - Wild Bill is no more, and the protagonist is now an outlaw.

TRADITIONAL (arr. Muhly) How Come That Blood

Some murder ballads seem particularly universal, and none more so than How Come That Blood. This song is about a mother who quizzes her son on the source of the blood on his shirt. First, he says it’s the blood of a hawk, then a greyhound, then a mare, but eventually the truth of the fratricide is revealed. From there, it’s down to practical matters. The murderer will emigrate with his wife, leaving their three children behind with their grandmother.


2 - 14 February 2017
Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle and Sydney.

Pekka Kuusisto
 Director & Violin
Sam Amidon Voice & Banjo


TRAD. (arr. Muhly) Kedron
JANÁČEK (arr. strings) String Quartet No.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’: I. Adagio con moto
TRAD. (arr. Muhly) Way Go Lily
JANÁČEK (arr. strings) String Quartet No.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’: II. Con moto
TRAD. (arr. Muhly) Wild Bill Jones
JANÁČEK (arr. strings) String Quartet No.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’: III. Con moto – Vivace – Andante – Tempo I
TRAD. (arr. Muhly) How Come That Blood
JANÁČEK (arr. strings) String Quartet No.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’: IV. Con moto
TRAD. The Redemption Set
ADAMS, John Shaker Loops: I. Shaking and trembling
BRACKETT Traditional Shaker hymn: Simple Gifts
ADAMS, John Shaker Loops: II. Hymning slews, III. Loops and verses, IV. A final shaking


Sam Amidon photos by Ferguson.