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Sam Amidon keyed latest album around personal hero

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Sam Amidon calls his latest album, "Lily-O," "a little adventure" -- as if there's anything little about recording in Iceland, with a personal hero (guitarist Bill Frisell).

"I just wanted to bring Bill up there and put him in the room with Chris (Vatalaro) and Shahzad (Ismaily), who have become very close musical collaborators, and see what we could do," explains the Vermont-born Amidon, 33, whose roots are in folk music via his parents and siblings. "I knew (Frisell) would love their playing and they hadn't played together before, but I thought it would work."

Musically, meanwhile, Amidon kept the project on edge by not selecting the 10 songs the quartet would work on with producer Valgeir Sigurosson in Reykjavik until just before he left for the sessions.

"I put the people and the place together and saw what I had just a few days beforehand," Amidon recalls. "I knew everybody involved was up for anything; I could've gone in and made jsut an album of fiddle tunes and improvised in there. But in the days before I left I spent some time alone, just playing through a bunch of stuff and seeing what I had, and when we got in the room it felt really good to do the songs. That's what felt fun and, ironically, the most improvisatory for us to do."

As on his previous albums, Amidon composed his "Lily-O's" songs around lyrics from existing folk songs that have been passed down through the centuries. He initially "didn't think I had another one in me like that," but the material presented itself for the new album "felt good" -- and not at all like Amidon was flogging a dead concept.

"I'm extremely careful for it not to be a gimmick, what I do," he explains. "It has to feel like I'm doing something meaningful. If I do an album of reworked folks songs it will always be because the material wants to be there.

"It's possible I'll write some lyrics someday. But it will have to be organic, and the musicians who are inspiring to me are not singer-songwriters on the whole. I grew up with fiddle players, and then musicians like Miles Davis, Elvin Jones and people who are super-powerful artists expressing their stuff but doing it through other people's melodies. That's still what inspires me the most."

Sam Amidon

8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 8.

The Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor.

Tickets are $15.

Call 734-761-1800 or visit www.theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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