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Press Reviews for I See The Sign

Sam Amidon’s singing doesn’t beat a straight path to you. It’s got some feeling, but it also seems weedy on purpose, second-guessed and underplayed. You might be unsure where he’s coming from. He’s a young folk singer — whatever that means these days, right? In this case here’s exactly what it means: Mr. Amidon was born in 1981 and raised in Vermont by parents who are group-singing leaders and storytellers. Rare for someone his age, he knows where a lot of old folk songs come from, what they can accomplish and how they might be revised.

But he must also know how earnest they can seem, so the raw core of his voice remains hidden among the tangle of musical languages on his new record, “I See the Sign.” This is an album whose repertory tells one story and its arrangements another. It includes a children’s singing game (“Way Go Lily”), a Georgia Sea Island song (“You Better Mind”) and the traditional Appalachian “Rain and Snow,” the rendering of whose title suggests that Mr. Amidon favors the version recorded by the banjoist Obray Ramsey in 1963 over one called “Cold Rain and Snow” and recorded by the Grateful Dead in 1967. And, also, um, “Relief,” by the R&B singer R. Kelly.

Playing guitar or banjo as he sings, he transforms all of them, changing their colors and loading them with trapdoors. He slows them down and rewrites their harmonies, making curious, arty, quiet pop in his own mood — ornery, sensitive, distant. “I See the Sign” is a seriously intelligent record, but never cute or overbearing; its Icelandic producer, Valgeir Sigurdsson, has left it dry and full of space, so that you hear the seams.

The songs pass through clouds of animated, rigorous arrangements of strings, woodwind and brass, written by the composer Nico Muhly; Beth Orton, strong-voiced and raw-toned, sings backing harmony; Shahzad Ismaily plays drums thoughtfully and sparingly, improvising just a little bit. It’s theoretical and handsome music, and it makes good sense of its curious point of view.

BEN RATLIFF

NY Times Critics' Choice (April 11th 2010)

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Discography

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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On the web

  • Find out more on Sam Amidon’s website
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