The phrase “breathless hush” might have been created for the rapt anticipation that greets some of the artists who play the Cross Street Chapel in Manchester. The circular space is a perfect arena for detailed electronica of the kind presented by Machinefabriek and company last year, or acoustic performances such as tonight’s astonishing set by American singer and guitarist/banjo player Sam Amidon. We were fortunate this evening to be treated not only to virtually the whole of Amidon’s All Is Well album but he was also accompanied throughout by a string quartet playing exclusively for this concert.
All Is Well is a collection of traditional songs of the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music/“Old Weird America” school and Amidon himself comes from a musical family immersed in these folk traditions. As a result he swims in this world like a natural and when you add his equally natural talent plus Nico Muhly‘s string arrangements you have something very special. Some of the more poignant songs tonight were, if anything, better than their equivalents on the album, not least for the incomparable atmosphere that live strings bring to the occasion; when he opened with Saro I was on the verge on tears it was so wonderful. All Is Well is released by Bedroom Community, possibly the best label in the world right now with a small roster of essential artists that I keep intending on writing about at greater length for Arthur. Tonight’s event made that intention all the more urgent and necessary. Best gig of the year already? We’ll see…. Buy his album!