As gale-force winds whipped rain against City Winery’s exterior, inside the night belonged to cozy hour d’oeuvres, a glass of wine and old-fashioned folk singing. Young banjoist Sam Amidon began the night with his best song, “How Come That Blood”, but never successfully matched the charm of his initial lulling cadence paired with his raspy sonority. The audience (including David Byrne) embraced his deadpan idiosyncrasies and cheered loudly when he saved the intonation on his third song by moving his guitar capo into the same key he was singing in. But his offbeat allure resonated well with his rustic musings, especially when sung in his yodeler’s croak of a tenor. Accompanied by a pianist, he harmonized with Beth Orton—whom he introduced as opening for herself—on “Sugar Baby”, ending his set on a gorgeous note.
At this point the initial charm of the venue was compromised by the constant din of dinner service and accompanying crashes of dishes in the kitchen. Its 300+ capacity dinner theatre dwelling stretched the bounds of intimacy. Beth Orton’s self-deprecating dialogue with herself regained some closeness in the evening, between singing old songs from her catalogue (“Someone’s Daughter”, “Stolen Car”, and “Touch Me With Your Love”) and trying out some new material. Hampered by a cough, some of her songs required several attempts or new takes in between sips of tea. Regardless, her quivery but resilient voice was as soulful and nurturing as ever, especially on “Comfort of Strangers” and “Safe In Your Arms”. Rounding out her set she brought Mr. Amidon back onstage to sing a duet of “Sugar Boy”, their voices beautifully balancing each other on its drawn out vowels. Thus it was a shame Orton didn’t retain him on her last song “O-o-h Child”.