Bedroom Community

Press Reviews for I See The Sign

Sam Amidon plays traditional folk music almost free of context. He comes along after not only folk’s moment but a good several years since Bob Dylan’s own elder statesman “comeback” period began, long after “authenticity” returned to the ‘80s and MTV Unplugged and No Depression and the alt-country movement and “anti-folk” and “freak-folk.” Here comes a guy who plays the tunes because he knows them, because he likes them, because he thinks you might like them, too. That’s how Amidon sings: He mumbles, out of the side of his mouth, as though he didn’t know someone would be listening. The songs he chooses (nothing on his fourth album was written by him) are circular, small melodies he might’ve whistled while flipping a coin waiting for a train. You won’t learn any of his convictions listening to I See the Sign, but he doesn’t sound sensitive either. He doesn’t sound like he cares; he doesn’t sound like he doesn’t care. “Passive” is the word that comes to mind and yet it slights him—if these performances are passive, they’re passively beautiful, combed-over, thought-out, and then re-remembered fondly, wistfully.

Yet that passivity is the key to the earnest openness that makes Amidon’s new album transcend. How else could entrancing opener “How Come That Blood” snake in on a subtly techno gallop that malfunctions with feedback at the end, and not give off a wheeze of calculation? Somehow Amidon’s calm stage-setting keeps the electronics from distracting any more than the insistent banjo clicks or dervish-like string fills. The next two songs are the most tuneful here, a slowly engrossing “Way Go, Lily” that’s minimalist the way The Velvet Underground was, and the best version of “You Better Mind” I’ve ever heard, as a duet with Beth Orton(!), in her canniest form since the Chemical Brothers’ classic “Where Do I Begin.” Later on, the stark “Rain and Snow” is Amidon’s best attempt at lifting an almost-emotional vocal from his consistently almost-hypnotic mutter.

 All the swaying beauty on display for the perfect 10:29pm listen doesn’t prepare one for—if they even realized they’re being prepared for it—the beautiful segue from the spare gospel “Climbing High Mountains” into the opening piano flecks and flutters of “Relief”, which gives me everything I’ve ever wanted from Sufjan Stevens in under 60 seconds. But even after the first hint, some strikingly sharplyrics compared to the rest of the record (“Confusion everywhere / But not a clue on how to make it better”), I still didn’t realize I was listening to an R. Kelly cover. How authentic could that be, the folkies may wonder. And it won’t do much for the ironists either—it’s not a hit, not even on an album actually, postmarked 2009 and never officially released. And Amidon treats it with the same quiet, reflective candor he awarded Bessie Jones’ “Sloop John B” variant earlier in the record. Sure, filling his repertoire with traditionals vaunts his listenability far past equally tasteful peers like Phosphorescent and Bill Callahan. But no one said life was fair.  

Dan Weiss

Crawdaddy Magazine (March 18th 2010)

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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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