Sam Amidon releases Bright Sunny South on May 13 2013

sam amidonTo coincide with the release of his Nonesuch Records debut, Sam Amidon will play a show at Bush Hall in London on May 23.

Nonesuch Records releases the new album, Bright Sunny South, on May 13. 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. It includes the single ‘My Old Friend’, which is featured below.

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.” A longtime admirer of Boys’ work, Amidon was particularly enamoured 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.

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’

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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.

Artist’s website: www.samamidon.com

Two very exciting pieces of Nick Drake news…

WAY TO BLUE THE SONGS OF NICK DRAKEThe first, is that WAY TO BLUE – THE SONGS OF NICK DRAKE is released on Navigator Records, April 15, 2013.

The concet features Teddy Thompson, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Lisa Hannigan, Scott Matthews, Krystle Warren, Danny Thompson and many more and was recorded live in London and Melbourne.

“Every week, somewhere in the world, singers gather in clubs and halls to sing the songs of Nick Drake. It is sobering to think that more people now hear his songs in a month than ever heard them in his lifetime.” – Joe Boyd

Undoubtedly one of the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years, Nick Drake found little mainstream success during his lifetime; however, since his untimely death at the age of 26, his fragile acoustic, autumnal music has touched the hearts of millions of people.

Over the years since Drake’s death, his original producer Joe Boyd has explored the possibility of producing an album in tribute to his songwriting. But despite many well-known artists wishing to participate, he always resisted, because it seemed the only practical way to accomplish it would be for each artist to supply a track recorded separately, with their own chosen musicians.

Boyd felt that the only way to avoid the pitfalls of the typical Tribute Album would be to have everyone together for a week in a rural studio, backing each other with harmonies and guitar parts, creating an organic whole of an album. By performing Way To Blue fifteen times over the course of four years, he has accomplished something resembling his original dream.

The songs have been honed and shaped over the course of time, and the spirit of togetherness among the Way To Blue company has proved inspiring to all participants.

The recordings on this new CD are the edited highlights of concerts in London and Melbourne; the interpretations provide evidence, if such evidence was ever needed, of the timeless depth of Nick Drake’s qualities as a songwriter. The result is an album with the quality of a studio production and the spontaneity of a live performance.

Writing in the album sleeve notes, Joe says,

“Selecting singers has been one of the most rewarding parts of this exercise. One criterion was that none of them should sound like Nick.Vashti Bunyan is the one singer who actually knew Nick. I tried to get them to write songs together, but should have known that two such self-contained people would have trouble provoking one another into a collaboration. Since that time, the arc of Vashti’s career has been almost as remarkable as Nick’s, with the gratifying difference that she has survived to enjoy the late (but not too late) adulation of a generation of singers, songwriters and fans.

Robyn Hitchcock was too young to know Nick, but not by much. He grew up, he says, “with his nose pressed up against the glass of the Sixties” and has carved out a brilliant career, bringing to his own songs and his interpretations of Dylan, Syd Barrett, the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake a genuinely original evocation of the mad spirit of those years.

Shortly after the Birmingham Town Hall show, as I was preparing a concert of Incredible String Band songs at the Barbican, I learned that Green Gartside, whose Scritti Politti recordings I had loved in the ‘80s, wanted to come and ‘play some back-up guitar or sing harmony’. I asked him whether he was equally fond of Nick Drake. You can hear the response in his performance of “Fruit Tree” on this cd.

Lisa Hannigan is a magnetic and melodic singer with clever, thoughtful songs. I had but to mention Nick to her and she was on the team. Her wild take on “Black Eyed Dog” brought down the house the first night and has done so ever since.

Scott Matthews, a Midlands singer-songwriter who went from small clubs in Wolverhampton to earn an Ivor Novello Award, sell 80,000 copies of his debut cd and duet and tour with Robert Plant. The passion and power of his version of “Place To Be” has all the more impact for the fact that it sneaks up on you.

Krystle Warren is an African-American woman with a powerful voice and impeccable taste who loved Nick and wanted to sing “Time Has Told Me”.  I saw in her the realization of a dream I had from the time I first heard Nick’s demo of  the song and was convinced it should be Roberta Flack’s follow-up to “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”.

Teddy Thompson is the talented son of my old friends and colleagues Richard and Linda Thompson. Teddy has his mother’s exquisite phrasing and sense of humour and his father’s intensity. Teddy’s seemingly effortless rendering of “Riverman” became one of Way To Blue’s highlights.

When we received an offer to tour Australia, we decided to bring six singers with us and add two locals. The male choice of Shane Nicholson was easy – he has become one of Australia’s favourite singers, winning award after award. Shane slotted easily into the show and delivered the impeccable “Poor Boy” you hear on the cd.

The female voice proved more difficult until I discovered the mesmorizing singing of Australian Zoe Rendell who with Steve Hassett, comprises the duo Luluc. The lineup was complete.

From his characteristic entry at the start of the second verse on “Things Behind The Sun”, many will recognize the “Danny Thompson feel” underpinning Way To Blue. A jazzer, he has lent his skills to dozens of my productions and hundreds of albums by artists across the pop, folk and jazz fields. Nick loved Danny, both for his playing and for the way he teased and cajoled him, never letting him retreat into his shell, drawing laughter from him whenever they met.

Nick was never a folkie and some from that world have been uncomfortable with his privileged education and accent. Yet Neil MacColl, son of that founding anchor of British folk, Ewan MacColl, is the most supremely accomplished virtuoso of the impossibly complex Drake guitar parts. Which needn’t be that much of a surprise – his mother Peggy Seeger is a banjo and piano virtuoso who can startle the uninformed by playing brilliant renditions of Debussy and Scriabin!

Kate St John insisted on Zoe Rahman for the piano chair. Zoe has been a revelation.  She is a jazz player, but her own albums deftly weave in the music of her Bangladeshi heritage; making the leap to the very English art-song of Nick Drake seems just another effortless step accomplished with the fluency of a virtuoso devoid of any hint of jazz cliché.

Guitarist Leo Abrahams warmed my World Music heart by adding the Ukrainian bandura to his adventurous use of effects. When he was unable to make the Australian tour, Steve Jones proved a more than able deputy. He shares with Leo a background of working with Brian Eno and composing film scores.

Also bringing World Music chops to the party is drummer Martyn Barker, who performs with the Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara duo as well as Billy Bragg and Beth Gibbons.

Each concert featured a section of seven string players. The personnel have altered with each tour, but first violins Oli Langford and Jules Singleton have provided brilliant leadership and all the British, Italian and Australian players have given us wonderful energy and have clearly loved playing Robert Kirby’s and Kate St John’s arrangements.

The sadness of honouring a poet who died so young was compounded when Robert Kirby passed away as we were preparing for the first Way To Blue tour. Robert was a classmate of Nick’s at Cambridge; the musical context of Nick’s first two albums is that of a collaboration between two friends. He took Nick’s music on its own elegant terms and created a body of work that has lasted far past both his and Nick’s life spans.

It would be impossible to imagine Way To Blue without Kate St John. Her impeccable taste on accordion and cor anglais combine with her arrangements and direction to provide the glue that holds this diverse project so sweetly together.”

NICK DRAKE BRYTER LAYTER REMASTERED AND BOXED VINYL EDITIONThe second piece of news is that the NICK DRAKE – BRYTER LAYTER – REMASTERED AND BOXED VINYL EDITION is OUT 29TH APRIL 2013 ON UNIVERSAL MUSIC CATALOGUE

Continuing the ReDISCovered boxed vinyl series of Nick Drake’s albums, Island Records presents his second album BRYTER LAYTER in a format similar to that used for the release of Pink Moon in 2012.

The album itself is a near exact replica of the original 1970 release, pressed on heavyweight audiophile vinyl, and remastered at Abbey Road from master tapes by the album’s original engineer John Wood.  Although the first generation master tapes were found to be unusable, Wood had made a safety copy of the album in 1970 and it is from this that the new album has been struck.

The vinyl comes in an Island card inner bag in a single pocket textured sleeve just as the original release would have done. In addition it is housed in a box containing a copy of the original shop poster, a smaller ‘Live’ poster/brochure and a reprint of Nick’s handwritten set list together with reproductions of the master tape reel and tape box lids.

The album comes with a selection of downloadable electronic formats, including either high-resolution files, the usual MP3 files or unique Dubbed-From-Disc files for that authentic play-back experience.

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Piano Magic Release 11th Album “Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet”

‘Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet,’ Piano Magic’s 11th official album sees them emerging from beneath the wreckage of previous guitar-heavy releases to re-investigate the darker, more electronic sonic themes of their earlier work. Instant parallels will inevitably be drawn with the ghostly chamber pop of 1999’s ‘Artists Rifles’ and the even-earlier surreal romanticism of ‘Low Birth Weight.’ At the core, once again, Glen Johnson’s unashamedly nihilistic ruminations on the human condition, though now shrouded in foggy analogue synth washes, pulsing heart beats, cathedral reverbs and Joe Meek-esque spectral vox. Indeed, this is an album of beautiful, indispensable baroque ghostliness, of disconnected hearts and oceans. Touchstones would be the new, airless beauty of Regis and Raim; the timeless gravitas of Dead Can Dance and the urban, though melodic isolationist output of late 70’s/early 80’s Factory Records.

Since 1996, Piano Magic have established themselves as something of an oxymoron : a popular underground band. Previously hailed as a secret love amongst European darkwave enthusiasts, recent concerts in their home city of London have revealed a confident foray into quieter, more fragile, melodic material, eschewing the dynamic, cathartic guitar barrages of recent albums, ‘Part Monster’ and ‘Ovations.’ Often cited for their selective collaborations (with Vashti Bunyan, Low, Dead Can Dance), ‘Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet’ is the group stripped back to the core of Glen Johnson, Jerome Tcherneyan, Angele David Guillou, Franck Alba and Alasdair Steer, albeit with a small supporting orchestral cast. Josh Hight (of Irons) adds his voice to ‘Judas,’ ‘The Way We Treat The Animals’ and ‘A Secret Never Told.’

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Maz Totterdell – Counting My Fingers from the album Sweep

Maz Totterdell’s remarkable debut Sweep depicts youthful talent at its most striking. Her sound, characterised by memorable melodies, folk musicianship and insightful poetic lyricism, has been likened to Vashti Bunyan, Thea Gilmore and Feist.

The teenage singer/songwriter’s debut single Counting My Fingers won 6 Music’s Rebel Playlist public vote following national radio plays on BBC Radio 2 (Sir Terry Wogan and Steve Lamacq) and 6 Music itself (Radcliffe & Maconie, Chris Hawkins, Shaun Keaveney and Steve Lamacq). It then went on to receive the highest score on Steve’s new releases review show, Roundtable.

Maz has been singing at open mic nights in her home county of Devon since she was 9, performed at London’s Hackney Empire in the final of UK Unsigned when she was 10, started teaching herself guitar and writing songs at the age of 11, and had played 8 of her own compositions at local venues and festivals by the time she turned 13 on Christmas Eve 2009.

2011 saw Maz play her first London shows, her ever changing set being selected from her catalogue of 40+ original songs, plus a different, one-performance-only cover version at each gig. Her solo girl-with-a guitar live performance is a thing of fragile, embryonic beauty. At her dates last year Maz managed to charm and entrance, silencing the usual in-gig chatter with her sensitive, intensely engaging performances.

Sweep combines confessional tales of complicated teen romance with cunning pop hooks and a confident sparkle. Maz’s songwriting and her pure, unaffected voice are not her only talents, as she ably arranged all of Sweep’s musical and vocal parts herself. This superior debut suggests a very bright future.

“Very bright and very promising…we’re looking forward to the album a LOT” – Steve Lamacq – BBC Radio 2

‘Charming’ – Sir Terry Wogan – BBC Radio 2

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