Sam Amidon is a forward thinking and inspiring traditional folk artist. Without actually writing all his own material, Amidon has crafted a sound that is wholly idiosyncratic. On his 2008 All is Well album, Amidon took a batch of age old folk and gospel songs and reinterpreted them into a lingering, emotive and stirring record. On I See The Sign – his fourth solo album and second with the Bedroom Community team – Amidon has made another album of americana-folk; just as rustic, lonesome and affecting as its predecessor.
Most songs on this album have been taken from the public domain, deconstructed and reconstructed as dark and tender folk blues. With the exception of album opener -How Come That Blood’, a brilliantly gutsy rhythmic piece with a raw electronic edge, each song delivered is a beautifully intricate ballad, sparse with delicate arrangements.
Once again Bedroom Community leader Valgeir SigurÃ°sson is on production duties, drafting in Nico Muhly for string and horn orchestration while Shahzad Ismaily plays virtually all of the non-orchestral instruments on the record throughout . The production isn’t overly expansive. There’s space for Amidon’s laid back banjo and guitar plucking style while his distinctive voice lies at the album’s core; strong yet fractured, calm yet full of controlled emotion, all in a heavy Vermont accent.
Amidon’s voice does share centre stage in parts with an equally distinctive voice. Beth Orton makes a studio return of sorts appearing on four of the eleven tracks. Entering near the end of the gorgeous -Way Go Lilly’, her voices floats in and soars with the subtle brass sounds. The duet on the upbeat -You Better Mind’ is reminiscent of Orton’s work with Terry Callier. Here, it’s as though Orton and Amidon try to sing like each other resulting in a warm honeyed harmony.
The material used on this record is a selection of American roots music with a strong emotional theme. -Climbing High Mountains’ is a revered gospel classic, while other tracks like -Johanna Row-Di’ started life as a children’s rhyme. A few are songs of lost origin, mostly centuries old, with one daringly contemporary inclusion. Enter R. Kelly. OK, Kelly may not spring to mind when thinking of brooding folk music but his unreleased tune -Relief’ has been a part of Amidon’s live set for some time, and is one of the most joyous tracks on this album. Stripped back and injected with more soul than the original, -Relief’ offers a paean of hope amid some tales of human desperation.
You see, I See The Sign is a spiritual, and at times mournful, record with alluring tales of a man lost in the world. A man making his way back to his homestead, sweetheart or in some cases God. A man willing to kill or be killed just to get there.