Sam Amidon: A Haunting Murder Ballad

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"How Come That Blood" is an old song, but in Sam Amidon's hands, it springs to life as if newly born. Samantha West hide caption

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Sam Amidon

"How Come That Blood" is an old song, but in Sam Amidon's hands, it springs to life as if newly born.

Samantha West

Monday's Pick

  • Song: "How Come That Blood"
  • Artist: Sam Amidon
  • CD: I See the Sign
  • Genre: Folk

On the surface, Sam Amidon seems to fit squarely into the singer-songwriter camp. His lineage is steeped in the Appalachian folk-music tradition, and his albums showcase evocative lyrics, world-weary vocals and fast, finger-plucked melodies. But that classification is misleading. Instead of composing songs from scratch, Amidon mostly performs traditional folk ballads and a delightfully odd assortment of cover songs that he's carefully reworked and made his own.

Both in concert and in the recording studio, the Vermont-based musician tells vivid stories. His songs are often light, but they occasionally take on a more sinister tone, as in the haunting murder ballad "How Come That Blood." The song concerns an unnamed man with a mysterious and incriminating red stain on his shirt who is repeatedly questioned by his mother. Amidon keeps the pace of the melody as quick as a racing heartbeat, and as the tension builds, the accompaniment becomes more persistent, as if the fiddle and snare are rising up against the guilty party. When the man finally admits that the blood came not from an animal but from his brother, Amidon pauses dramatically to emphasize the chilling confession before the vocals return and the song wraps with a heavy, distorted bass line.

Many of Amidon's songs predate his existence — "How Come That Blood" included — but by the time he re-imagines them, each one springs to life as if newly born.

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I See the Sign

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Sam Amidon
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