Press Reviews for All is Well
- Lost at Sea
- Rolling Stone Magazine
- Foxy Digitalis
- CMJ New Music Monthly
- Paperthin Walls
- Touching Extremes
- All Music
- Stylus Magazine
- The Milk Factory
Samamidon (or Sam Amidon, as he sometimes bills himself) hails from Vermont and is the scion of a musical family with roots in Appalachia. A contributor to such indie projects as Doveman and Stars Like Fleas, he recorded five albums with his band Assembly before releasing a debut solo album of traditional Irish tunes performed on solo fiddle. A second full-length, But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted, out last year on Plug Research, might be called his first "proper" release, if only because it was the first with a marketing push and a wide availability. Even so, it didn't move too far from what came before: old folk songs translated to new, modern contexts. And a Tears for Fears cover.
Amidon's new album, the ominously titled All Is Well (very little is ever well in these songs), again includes new readings of public domain compositions, and yet it feels like a great leap forward, thanks to Amidon's more relaxed approach and the contributions of composer Nico Muhly, himself a Vermonter. Where Chicken was well-meaning but occasionally dry, the trio of artists responsible for the record-- Amidon, Muhly, and Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurðsson (All Is Well was recorded at Sigurðsson's Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik and released on his Bedroom Community label)-- create a very specific space with these arrangements, which goes beyond simply setting mood and atmosphere. These songs inhabit their own world, closed off from the rest of humanity. Eschewing the hammy theatrics of indie folkies like Langhorne Slim and Two Gallants, All Is Well is an exceedingly private album, designed to usher you in and shut out everything else around you. It's a headphones album, but not one that relies on studio effects to maintain your interest.
It helps that these songs typically traffic in internal monologues with a first-person narrator. In "Saro" Amidon sings the part of an immigrant from an unnamed country who describes the vast land around him and takes both grief and solace in missing his true love back home. Later, the singer inhabits the title character of "Prodigal Son", matter-of-factly recounting his fateful homecoming. Amidon sells these sentiments with a soft croak, not unpretty but also not expected. Despite his lifelong training, he manages to sound untrained-- a regular soul comforting himself with music before confronting a bleak world again. His voice breaks evocatively when he hits the high notes on Dock Boggs' "Sugar Baby", conveying the continual ache of a lost loved one: "I'll rock the cradle when you're gone," Amidon sings, as if mustering the stoicism needed to face the next day.
Muhly's arrangements prove decidedly more modern, drawing inspiration from the repetitions of Philip Glass, the drones of Max Richter, and the flutteriness of Sufjan Stevens. "Little Johnny Brown", a folk tune popularized by Ella Jenkins in the 1960s, percolates with ambient noise-- fragments of piano, pots and pans percussion, unidentified thumps-- that coalesces into a calamitous drone. Surprisingly, it works. Throughout All Is Well, Amidon, Muhly, and Sigurðsson slow these songs considerably, but the curious instrumentation ensures they never lose momentum. Banjo and spoons generate tension on "Fall on My Knees" as a lone fiddle swirls in the background, and "Wild Bill Jones" and "O Death" are anchored by mournful horn fanfares and sustained piano notes that fade in and out between Amidon's vocals.
All Is Well is sequenced so that the uptempo tunes crowd the album's middle section, offsetting the gravity of what comes before and will come afterwards with a pair of celebratory songs. Flickering woodwinds and heavy strings add a sense of theatrical expectancy to the relatively spry "Wedding Dress" and "Little Satchel", which complement each other nicely and give a hopeful spin to an otherwise grave album. Occasionally, Muhly's score sounds too busy for such modest songs, but mostly the instruments interact so closely with Amidon's understated vocals that the arrangement and the performance become indistinguishable. This quality makes All Is Well a very forward-thinking album, despite its reliance on traditional tunes. With his team of musicians working so closely together, Amidon doesn't just update the old world to the new, but finds the roots of the new world in the old.
Stephen M. Deusner
Pitchfork (February 8th 2008)
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I See The Sign
Released on 19 April 2010
All is Well
Released on 22 October 2007
On the web
- Find out more on Sam Amidon’s website
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