A reader recently got in touch to ask whether I could put up Sam Amidon’s album, ‘Alone Inside My Head’, which I wrote a post about last year.
It had been available as a free download on his website, but has since been taken down. Since it has been in the public domain for free, and isn’t to my knowledge ‘in print’ or available in any paid-for format, I don’t have any qualms about uploading it here.
Here’s the link, for anyone interested: [link removed 19-4-12]. If Sam Amidon gets in touch to tell me to take it down I certainly will, and I’ll probably delete it from Mediafire in a few days anyway because I don’t want to be the only person hosting this album long-term. That would feel a bit weird.
I’ll do a normal post soon.
I’ve tried to get into the habit of learning a new song (any that occurs to me on the day) whenever I get an hour or two to play. Today I’ve been picking my way towards a bass/chord/melody arrangement of the old jazz standard Guilty. Turns out there are a lot of chords in that song and my muscles are somewhat weaker than I remember.
Anyway here’s a guitarist with no apparent physical limitations whatsoever – the great Bert Jansch, who sadly died last year.
And, here he is, on his first album, aged about 22, playing an instrumental sketch called Finches.
His debut LP is remembered for his virtuosic version of Davey Graham’s folk guitar standard Angie (or Anji), and the none-too subtle heroin tragedy narrative The Needle of Death. Personally I loathe the latter – for me the real heart of the album is in his on-the-nose beatnik travelogues (which sound to me more like the sound of a British chap imagining himself out on the road, probably in the US, than authentic accounts of life on the ‘highway’)(which I find quite charming).
And in instrumental interludes like this.
According to UK folkies revivalist legend, this whole album was recorded at someone’s house, and all of it has the informal quality you can hear here. This track is modest in scale at under a minute long, and Bert breezes through it with no apparent effort at all, despite the extraordinary technique and the complexity of the piece. A lesser player might have made a meal of this – or shouted louder about what an exception achievement it is.
One of the reasons I didn’t post anything here for ages was because I was busy finishing off Little Hands Clapping’s full-length album, The Unbroken Wave.
The album – which you can download for free – is based on a live electric set Tom and I played a few times with a drummer, David Christie, and as such isn’t Small Music. Live, it was a sequence raw frenetic surf-inspired instrumentals, while the recorded arrangements all involve multiple loud guitars and layers of percussion.
But we thought a series of short, fast complicated surf-prog might be a bit exhausting without breaking it up and varying the pace. I’ve always admired albums with little interludes or linking passages, and reoccurring themes. This may be a symptom of having come of age in the late-90s – At The Drive In’s prog-influenced post-hardcore masterpiece Relationship of Command uses interludes to break up the assault of the main songs, and Kid A by Radiohead and 13 by Blur both make excellent use of interludes.
Anyway, on the LHC album, the interludes take the form of shorter tracks, or fade-outs.
One is an ambient thing involving samples of me playing a jew’s harp. Another is a standalone track which introduces a couple of the themes contained in the next song. In a couple of cases we did little remixes of other tracks on the album.
Milterlude is a short reprise of Milton Street, highlighting parts which were really fun to listen to on their own but a bit buried in the mix of the “main” song. The badly played bongo, a swannie whistle choir, a cheeky organ vamp… they all get their little moment here.
Here’s Milton Street, the track the parts originally came from. Milterlude is a sort of ensmallened version of Milton Street, with a miniature structure, the big drums and amped-up guitars done away with, the smaller instruments to the fore, and a lighter touch overall.
Elliott Landy‘s photos helped create a new image for Dylan, marking distinct shift in his sound and lyrical concerns. Bob’s 1965/66 fashion sense (and general demeanour) matched his rock n roll urgency and perfectly reflected his lyrics, which were at once flamboyant and rather aloof and distainful.
The Landy photos show a warmer, domesticated Bob. He’s gained a little weight, had a good night’s sleep and got his hair under control. When he gazes into the camera, some of the old fury remains, but many of the pictures show him as a hands-on family man (it’s very rare that you see Bob in the mid-sixties being warm towards anyone). And, in contrast to the urban pop/art scene he personified a year or two earlier, he’s moved out of the city to upstate New York.
The retreat from cutting edge rock n roll began in 1967, when Dylan began recording with The Band in a basement in upstate New York. The group passed a few months writing new material and revisiting standards from the traditional canon, as well as the country, rockabilly and folk revival songbooks. Plenty has been written already about the sessions – not least by Greil Marcus, whose Invisible Republic book comes with a full Quiet Room endorsement.
Around 100 tracks were recorded. A selection were later released on Dylan’s Basement Tapes album but the complete sessions have been widely bootlegged. One of the many appealing things about the official album is its informal quality – for Marcus’s take on that follow the Basement Tapes link above and scroll down to read the sleevenotes – everything was plainly recorded together and there is a tangible warmth in the playing, and the vocals in particular, which are alive with deadpan jokes and giggling, and missed cues, and off the cuff harmonising.
I’ve been meaning to write about these sessions since I began this blog, and I plan to return to them. This homemade, intimate music, in which ancient common traditions bleed into raw personal visions, is some of the most radical I know.
Here’s a song from the complete session bootleg – a version of Pete Seeger’s Bells of Rhymney, which was based on a righteous if slightly clumsy protest poem about labour relations in the south Welsh mining industry.
Electric guitarists will instantly recognise the explosion noise at the start – the sound of an amplifier with a spring reverb being moved or dropped. Bob is strangely absent from his own vocal. Unlike his confrontational 1966 era singing, in which he taunts you with his own genius at high volume, in this performance he allows the song speak through him. Sticking to the hill and vale contours of melody, he sounds simultaneously young and ancient. As he does on all his greatest recordings.
Some readers will know this song from the majestic version on The Byrds’ debut album. (Alert: Not Small Music)
Their reading suffers from a fairly brutal edit, which removed some of the strongest and most resonant lines (“throw the vandals in court”… “even God is uneasy”). Dylan kept them all, and delivered them with haunting composure.
The Raincoats – unexpectedly awesome Small Music from the usually piss-weak UK post punk indie scene
I only came across The Raincoats very recently, through the self publicist and controversialist Everett True. I don’t mean to endorse him particularly because he’s wrong about almost everything and produces a kind of pooterish wannabe gonzo indie rock journalism… which I nevertheless enjoy because he has very clear, high quality thoughts and writes pretty well. Also as a teenager I used to enjoy his pieces in the Melody Maker (defunct UK inky weekly indie mag, for those of you too young or too foreign to know what I’m talking about) – his work helped explain to me how I felt about music, which I was discovering for the first time through the radio, friends and the music press.
Anyway, as is common among sad old men, Everett True seems to be convinced that rock n roll reached its apex around the time of his own sexual peak. This accounts for his otherwise inexplicable preoccupation with The Fall, among other things. But it also means he has an encyclopaedic mental index of obscure early-80s bedsit rock oddities like The Raincoats.
Who were very good indeed. Their second album Odyshape is a collection of hushed, asymmetric songs with lots of changes of pace and appealingly wonky arrangements. I’m not really a fan of shambolic indie schmindie (I imagine the Raincoats inspired a lot of incredibly lame imitators), but I like the combinations of sounds, and the sense of exploration and adventure in the playing. This could easily have been a horrible mess but the performance has the essential Small Music trait of an almost audible sense of sympathy between the players. Everyone leaves plenty of space for everyone else’s ideas, allowing the piece to breathe and evolve naturally.
Note a rare Quiet Room embedding triumph!
It’s also on Spotify.
There’s more to the album than you hear on this one track – maybe I should post some others too.
Ok, next time I think I should write about Bill Evans again, because the last post I did about him consistently gets more hits than all the other posts I write on this blog.
Ok, I realise it’s been an insultingly long time since I last posted. I’ve moved home and been generally insanely preoccupied and/or not had internet access. Hopefully things are starting to even out again though, so I look forward to bringing you some new posts about Small Music really soon.
I got into Sam Amidon (or: samamidon) by mistake. One night a few friends and I went to the Union Chapel, a magical venue in north London, to see Owen Pallett. Amidon was supporting, accompanied by Nico Muhly and, bafflingly, Beth Orton.
About four bars into his set, I was transfixed and very, very envious. Amidon had hit on something I’d never heard before but couldn’t believe no-one else (including me) had thought of. The core of his set was based around the inexhaustible melodic and lyrical forms of traditional American and European music, but presenting them in a modernist context, with advanced harmonic arrangements and even some minimalist, Steve Reich-style phased piano playing. The delivery was plain, straight and uncontrived, but the performance as a whole was complex, and nuanced.
It’s not there any more, but he used to have on his website a free album to download called Home Alone Inside My Head. Is there a better definition for Small Music? Anyway the collection was very different from the pristine, meticulously arranged songs you hear on Amidon’s albums. Raw solo performances, tape hiss, and not much in the way of vocals or “song” songs. I assume Amidon won’t mind me uploading this tune because he gave it away for free originally.
Together, the collection seems to form a sort of artistic unconscious for Amidon – cataloguing the deep, weird elements that all his more deliberate work is built on. There are banjo pieces, noisy textural experiments and crude harmonica blowing. You can hear rough, unselfconscious creativity, and the sound of a young mind and a supple pair of hands churning through the great American musical traditions and working out their own take on it.
This performance – Will Adams – is one of the tighter pieces in the collection. Also notable is Amidon’s appealingly steely tone, which has all the strength and guts of a Lomax prison recording.
When you hear a distinct, realised voice like Amidon’s – here‘s a good example of his “official” work – the certainty and clarity you hear can be rooted in Small Music, and spontaneous, self-explanatory pieces such as this.
Footnote: more recently, Sam Amidon has taken the Home Alone Inside My Head concept and made it the basis for a series of lectures.