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Press Reviews for I See The Sign

Sam Amidon doesn’t know how to write songs. He’s tried before and failed, yet he’s managed to achieve a general sense of critical acceptance as an independent musician. It’s ironic for someone who’d otherwise be classified as a singer/songwriter to lack the gift of writing songs, but Amidon is gifted in his own right and has developed an apparent science to making music that has proven results. The first step involves Amidon choosing songs of a public domain variety. Public domain basically means they’re so old that there’s no cut and dry ownership of their intellectual property rights. Hence, they’re open to anyone’s use for their interpretation. They’re all traditional folk sounding in their melodies and even more so in their lyrical focus. Next, he digests the songs and builds ownership by working them out on the guitar and developing a vocal accompaniment through his fragile pipes. Finally, his composer and producer friends in collaboration, Nico Muhly and Valgier Sigurosson, take over and inject life into the songs through gorgeous, soaring arrangements using a revolving cluster of symphonic instruments.

“How About That Blood” is the opener for Amidon’s latest release, the present tense of that Ace of Base staple, I See the Sign. It’s an aggressive start to what continues on to be a relatively passive collection. It’s eerily similar to The Books and Jose Gonzalez’s cover of Nick Drake’s “Cello Song” on the Dark Was the Night compilation in the sense that strings are plucked in a rapid, yet rhythmic manner and are aided with the right amount of percussion to give a folk song dance appeal. From there, the album begins to flourish out softly, but is anchored by some of its best offerings such as “Climbing High Mountains,” “Relief” and “Red.”

The often overshadowed Beth Orton lends her vocals on I See the Sign, but not in a solo sense. She either harmonizes with Amidon or takes more of a backseat, restrained role. This sort of vocal collaboration with a female is new for Amidon when it comes to his records. Their voices are so unique on their own that they don’t necessarily jibe together. It’s not that they sound bad as one, but it begs the question of who would ever sound good with either of them.

“Saro” was the shining star on All Is Well. It’s a near perfect blend of delicate sounds that tells a heartbreaking story of a dearly missed loved one separated by distance where the melodies vary in intensity to emphasize the progression of the tale it tells. I See the Sign has its “Saro” and that song is “Pretty Fair Damsel,” a story of a woman who’s holding out on hope that her man in the Army returns back home into her life after being gone for seven painstakingly long years. While she doesn’t know what sort of state he might be in, she’ll continue on to wait because she loves him that much. Although this song is dated in time, the significance of it rings just as true today as it did when it was written. That same sort of undying love exists today while thousands of spouses and partners wait at home abidingly while their other halves are serving in the Middle East. Amidon has this incredible capacity to build upon the effectiveness of a song’s meaning by making changes in his vocal delivery that is obviously forced in most singers.

From the get go, it’s easy to hear that I See the Sign is a forward thinking departure from its predecessor, All Is Well. There are more shifts in feeling as a whole and the arrangements focus less on the guitar as a base while parading more thoughtful experimentation throughout. For that reason, I See the Sign is less accessible than All Is Well, but it’s definitely not less of a rewarding listen.

Steve Schusler

Stereo Subversion (March 10th 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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