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Erik Roldan writesA Conversation With Sam Amidon

Sam Amidon is an experimental folk artist. His newest album I See the Sign has been praised for its unique interpretations of traditional folk songs. The album was produced and recorded by Valgeir Sigurdsson and features contributions from Shahzad Ismaily, Nico Muhly, and Beth Orton. Performing this Friday at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Sam took some time to answer some questions for CHIRP Radio.

You were born in Vermont but have been living in New York City, still making folk music. What’s folky about New York City?

New York City is like 40 little teeny villages off in the mountains all piled up on top of each other. A Village-Tower.

What do you see is the relationship between traditional folk (choirs, untreated guitar, vocal groups, etc.) and the recording studio? Is there a conflict with what you grew up with and technology?

No, because my sense of traditional folk has a lot more to do with what the songs are and how people interact with them, not so much what the sound of folk music is. The significance of technology in folk music is way more about how it affected the way people heard and learned and shared music. So the main thing is that once radio was invented, you didn’t need to play music in order to hear it.

And the other thing about it is that it took memory and its attendant faults out of the process. So with music that was learned by ear and not written down, i.e. folk music, the songs were created through this wonderful series of accidents and forgotten verses, which is less true now that you can go back and check the recording.

Your new album has been praised for its reinterpretations of other people’s songs. Can you respond to that? Was making these songs something else intentional? If so, how do you go about recreating something like that? Can you talk about one song in specific that you are most proud of and why?

The main thing about the folksongs is that they are not “other people’s songs,” they are songs that are slowly created by many people over time, including whoever is singing them at the moment. I do tend to change them around, and partially that’s to make them more personal, but in a way I don’t stress about that too much – if I realize I just prefer singing the song as I learned it, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But sometimes I work backwards – I will write a guitar part or some chord changes, and then realize that a folk melody will fit on top, or won’t quite fit, but that’s nice too.

R. Kelly has, despite his dubious personal life, remained revered in both pop and indie circles. On your new album, you cover his song “Relief.” What about him appeals to you? What about that particular song?

He’s the most prolific and most insane and most melodic songwriter of the decade! I guess that would make him our Bob Dylan. And if he is our Bob Dylan, then that is his “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

How are you dealing with the changing landscape of the music industry? Have there been any particular things you used to do that you can’t anymore? In general, are the way things are changing good for you?

Well, the Internet has made it much easier for my music to be flung farther afield – because of that I was able to start traveling to Europe much sooner than I would have otherwise, I think. And anything that results in traveling to far-fung places is good!

What were the last three records you purchased or downloaded?

“Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2”; John Coltrane, “Ascension,” The-Dream, “Love King.”

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Categorized: Interviews

Topics: interview

Clarence Ewing: The Million Year Trip writesTonight: King Pignacious and His Merry Swine at The Viaduct Theater

Join us tonight at The Viaduct Theater as King Pignacious delivers an evening of “Modern-Day Multimedia Rock Opera.” The Four Star Brass Band opens.

Tickets are only $10 and one-third of that will help CHIRP in the fight for excellence in independent radio!

3111 N Western Ave.
Doors at 9pm. Show at 10pm. 21+

Read more and RSVP online!

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Categorized: Event Previews

Clarence Ewing: The Million Year Trip writesTonight: The Hudson Branch at Metro

Tonight’s the night! Gapers Block & Chirp Radio welcome The Hudson Branch, Camera, Reds and Blue, and My My My to Metro for an 18+ show at 9:00pm.

Doors open at 8:00pm. Admission is free before 9:00pm or $6 after 9:00pm if you print out a copy of the attached picture (you can also get a copy at and present it at the door OR sign up for text alerts from Metro and show your text message from the blast they will send out before the show.

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Categorized: Event Previews

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Steve Jones Edition

While Johnny and Sid got all the ink, Steve Jones was part of the backbone of the snotty roar that was the Sex Pistols. His beefy riffs powered the many classic tunes on their one proper album. After the Pistols fell apart, Jones didn’t rest on his laurels, doing everything from playing in The Professionals with fellow Pistol Paul Cook to backing Iggy Pop for a spell in the late ’80s. He gained new popularity with his fantastic radio show (broadcast from Los Angeles), showing off his great music taste and fun loving personality. While the ideal way to celebrate Jonesy’s birthday would be raising a pint with him, the next best thing would be taking out your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Dolly Varden — Apple Doll (The Dumbest Magnets): This is where Dolly Varden, Chicago’s very own, went from being a nice, somewhat rootsy band, to an undefinablely wonderful adult pop band. While most of the band’s material is the product of the amazing Steve Dawson, his wife Diane Christiansen’s contributions are also key. Some of her best songs are reminiscent of Roseanne Cash. But this languid number, built around a simple guitar figure, is probably a bit closer to the more atmospheric Lucinda Williams’ material. It’s a beautiful song.
  2. Liz Phair — Johnny Feelgood (Whitechocolatespaceegg): Hey, another Chicago artist! This is from Phair’s last album before she decided to (unsuccessfully) become a pop star. Although the production values are better than Exile In Guyville, this song comes from the same sensibility, with Phair’s typically insightful take on female sexuality. It’s like she was a one woman Sex in the City, before there was a Sex in the City.
  3. The Beach Boys — When I Grow Up (To Be a Man) (Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights)): This song straddles between the surf-pop of early Beach Boys hits and Brian Wilson’s more sophisticated compositions. This is one of the band’s more clever lyrics and the mix of Mike Love’s lead vocal and Brian Wilson’s soaring falsetto in the chorus (with typically fantastic harmonies) is pretty classic.
  4. Santigold — My Superman (Santigold): One of the few tracks from Miss Santi White’s debut album that was not licensed for a television commercial. Maybe because this moody slice of new wavey synth-pop isn’t driving enough to sell beer or whatever. So what. While this isn’t one of the best tracks on the album, it’s closer to killer than filler. One thing I appreciate is White sounds like she’s having fun singing this song.
  5. The Saints — Crazy Googenheimer Blues (Prehistoric Sounds): This is a bit more playful than the typical Saints song from their early days. This is a bouncy R & B based number with the guitar in the background and a bouncy piano. When Ed Kuepper does break into a guitar solo, he throws in a little twang. This song really highlights the unique qualities of Chris Bailey’s lower range. It’s a bit forced, which shouldn’t work, yet somehow it does.
  6. The Fall — Two Steps Back (Live At The Witch Trials): Early lurching rant from Manchester’s finest. The song is built on a repetitive guitar riff, augmented by some keyboard noodling. The rhythm section moves things along, while Mark E. Smith still sounds young, yet he’s clearly already a curmudgeon.
  7. Kaiser Chiefs — Like It Too Much (Off With Their Heads): While not innovators by any stretch, Kaiser Chiefs come up with some fine Britpop nuggets on each album. They seem to have really studied past greats like XTC, Madness and Blur. This song works a simple riff in the verse but blossoms with a soaring melody, which provides an excellent contrast to what came before it. At their best, they make good songwriting seem fairly easy, which, of course, it isn’t.
  8. Thin Lizzy — Roisin Dubh (Black Rose) (Black Rose: A Rock Legend): Thin Lizzy had its first success with a boogie-fied take on the folk ballad “Whiskey In A Jar”. And Irish and English folk was a vital component of this great hard band’s sound. Ted Leo once noted that his seeming Thin Lizzy influence is more of a by-product of his trying to write in similar folk idioms. This track takes the Irish folk to the extreme, telling an Irish legend in classic Lizzy style, dual lead guitars and all, stretched to an epic length (with a shout out near the end to the aforementioned “Whiskey”). It’s a great closer to Lizzy’s best album.
  9. The Four Tops — Bernadette (The Singles +): This song seems to have escaped perpetual rotation on oldies radio, which is a shame, as it is one of the two or three best Four Tops’ songs. It is an insistent, driving number, in the vein of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Insistent and driving and Levi Stubbs go together like peanut butter and jelly, making for a perfect record.
  10. Motorhead — Rock ‘N’ Roll (Rock ‘N’ Roll): How could Motorhead screw up a song with this title? Guess what, they don’t. This is a two-chord song pounded into submission by Lemmy and crew. Sometimes simple is best.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, mp3

Clarence Ewing: The Million Year Trip writesComing Soon: King Pignacious, Round 2

King Pignacious brings his “Modern-Day Multimedia Rock Opera” back to The Viaduct Theater this Saturday, Sept. 4th with the Four Star Brass Band!

Tickets for each night are only $10 and one-third of that will help CHIRP in the fight for excellence in independent radio. Don’t miss it!

3111 N Western Ave.
Doors at 9pm. Show at 10pm. 21+

Read more and RSVP online!

Share September 1, 2010 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Event Previews

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