Like several other albums that have crossed my path over the years, All Is Well by Sam Amidon is one of those releases that didn’t register with me on first, second, or even third listen. It wasn’t until a year or so after it came out that it really clicked into place with me, and when he teamed up with Nico Muhly a year or so later on Mothertongue, I found myself falling in love with his previous solo album even more.
Despite that, I’m still about a month late getting to his newest album, I See The Sign, but I couldn’t let another release of Amidon’s go by without saying something about it. Like All Is Well, this 11 song album might not hit immediately, but it’s strong throughout and subtle enough that you’ll hear new things many listens in. Not only that, but there are enough absolute stunners on the album that several songs have crept into my 10 most-played of the year so far.
Musically, I See The Sign is very similar to All Is Well, with melodies and harmonies carrying the way rather than overblown production. That said, there are a few tracks on the release that explore some more fleshed-out compositions. Opening song (and the first single from the release) “How Come That Blood” is one of them, with a looping upright bass, some fast-paced guitars and brisk percussion forming a backing while everything from electronic effects and string quartet bursts punctuate the track. It’s the most busy song that I’ve ever heard from Amidon, and it’s also a bit of a red herring, as the rest of the release settles into a much more subtle footing that works just as well, if not better than the more dense track.
The release veers back and forth, but never feels less than cohesive. There’s the (dare I say) almost rocking “You Better Mind,” which is another piece with actual percussion and some great female backup vocals from Beth Orton and the barely-there “Rain And Snow,” which stumbles along with only the vocals of Amidon and some quiet guitar and string quivers before it lets loose a bit at the end.
To my ears, it doesn’t get much better than “Pretty Fair Damsel,” a three-minute stunner that starts with nothing but vocals and guitar, but builds to a gorgeous peak with woodwinds, piano, strings, and horns before stepping back down to silence again.
“Pretty Fair Damsel” – Sam Amidon
The one-two of “Climbing High Mountains” and “Relief” are yet another high point on the release, with the former moving right into the latter without a misses step. The songs work together so much that I find myself playing them back-to-back just to get the full effect, but the beautiful harmonies and aching beauty of the latter (where Amidon again teams up with Orton) get me every time. It’s especially impressive considering that it’s a cover of an R. Kelly, and it falls in perfectly alongside the interpretations of Appalachian folk music as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
“Relief” – Sam Amidon
11 songs run just over 42 minutes, and while the music itself is a bit on the understated side, the impact certainly isn’t minimal. I feel bad about not saying the same thing about his previous release, so please seek this one out.