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Press Reviews for All is Well

There are paintings, on the walls of caves, in Lascaux, France, which are said to be 16,000 years old. After visiting the paintings, Pablo Picasso asserted that, after millennia of evolution and centuries of ever-changing periods and techniques, "we have invented nothing." With the most primitive tools imaginable, some of our earliest ancestors found a way to express what it feels like to be alive. The Lascaux paintings represent the purest form of art, a means of communication created in the hopes of displaying honesty and without concern for personal recognition. Millennia later, in the realm of popular music, such a notion is pretty much deceased.

By their nature, artists, producers and record labels attempt to manufacture a product that will be embraced either critically or commercially, which requires a certain amount of self-promotion to succeed, and as a result sacrifices at least a portion of the purity of their ambition. I don't say this to belittle the achievements of the great musicians of our time, as I myself have dedicated a sizable portion of my life and finances to loving and supporting popular artists that deserved it. But there was a time when nothing could be recorded or sold, and it was only in the creation of a powerful and simple melody with words to match that a piece of an artist was awarded the chance to escape being trivial and temporary.

This artistic contract with immortality might explain the eerie suspicion that ghosts are about when All Is Well is playing. As a result of Sam Amidon's calm, inexpressive vocal delivery, he seems to act as a vessel for a thousand faceless men and women -- lost, in love, murdered and starving in their own time. Amidon's unique hold on the cannon of traditional songs offered in All Is Well compliments perfectly the string arrangements of Nico Muhly, which are almost heartbreakingly gorgeous. Muhly's performance stands out especially in the sprightly grace of "Wedding Dress," and in the album's effortlessly sublime centerpiece, "Saro." Valgeir Sigurdsson's production succeeds in allowing All Is Well to sound irretrievably distant, existing outside of any given space or time, adding up to a work that is far greater than any one man or group of people creating it; an exorcism for being forgotten every time it is played.

There is a story to be told for each of the songs presented in this collection, either of desperate hope in love ("Sugar Baby"), of jealousy's murdering clutches ("Wild Bill Jones"), or of being unable to let go of what life could have been ("O Death"). By the moment "Saro" begins, there is the feeling that Sam Amidon is not singing for himself, but rather in obligation to those who came before him. I don't know that such was Amidon's intent, and I am doubtful that even he knows exactly what he has accomplished here. Perhaps it is the unassuming, reserved approach to this recording that allows it to be as magnificent as it is. I'll admit to being nervous in recognizing All Is Well as a record that is pretty much a perfect storm, but every time Amidon's voice echoes beneath a chorus of violins, simultaneously grand and understated, it becomes more impossible to deny that the sound is something truly special. All Is Well is not music; it is as pure as the tune your mother hummed the first time she saw your face, and almost anything else is corrupt and forged in comparison.

Dave Toropov

Lost at Sea (March 11th 2008) ★★★★★★★★★★

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I See The Sign
Released on 19 April 2010
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All is Well
Released on 22 October 2007
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