New CD from Sam Amidon
Welp, this is my first post to the No Depression community, so I’ll keep it short. Just got the new album, I See the Sign, from indie folk prophet Sam Amidon. Sam signed to Bedroom Community Records, a label improbably housed in Iceland, to produce his previous album, All is Well in 2008 and he’s returned to them for this album as well. He’s accompanied by Beth Orton for some stunning duets on I See the Sign, as well as a host of Icelandic musicians (all really excellent) who I’ve never heard of. But everyone joining Amidon on this recording is there primarily to support his soft, empty voice and his peculiar vision of folk music in a new century.
Both of Amidon’s albums on Bedroom Community mine the same deep, dark well of mellow folk musings that has become Amidon’s trademark. You may think you’ve heard this kind of music before, and it’s true that indie folk has becoming more and more popular following the paths blazed by Iron & Wine, Joanna Newsom, Devandra Bandhart, and Alela Diane.
But the difference here is that Amidon has a super fuckin’ solid grounding in the American folk music he’s drawing his inspiration from. He grew up the son of two dyed-in-the-wool folkies from Vermont singing along with them to recordings of the Georgia Sea Island Singers and other obscure folk LPs. His first album was a solo recording of Irish fiddle tunes. He currently plays in a kickass contra dance band. He’s a folkie through-and-through, but his take on traditional folk songs like “Rain and Snow” is absolutely radical. It sounds like he’s pulled all the flesh and muscle from the corpse of these old songs and is greedily squatting over the bones, sucking out the marrow.
Occasionally a good indie folk artist will tap into the strata of dark passion that hides under the words and melodies of American folk music, but it’s exceedingly rare to find an artist who’s actually taken up residence in this place of intense human emotion from whence the songs spring. Listen to the disturbing menace on his opening song, How Come That Blood. With little vocal inflection, Amidon still manages to convey the eerie atmosphere of this ancient murder ballad. The edgy, clashing accompaniment of pizzicato violin and electric bass sure helps this mood, but Amidon has tapped into the true secret of the old ballads: their ordinariness. Traditional ballad singers have always sung with this flat, almost-bored inflection, because they’ve realized that the truths they’re are speaking are so violent and destructive that exaggerating their drama would only cheapen their effect. It’s an old truth that very few people realize anymore.
Amidon will make you rethink the whole idea of folk music. And that’s his gift. To take the simplest of songs and ideas and to make it ethereal, profound and touching. He does it through his wavering voice and flat intonation, and in I See the Sign, he takes a cue from Joanna Newsom’s book and does it with a full orchestra’s abstract passages behind him.
I See the Sign is an ambitious project, perhaps a project that could only be conceived in the empty cold of Iceland and certainly only a project that could be born from Amidon’s strange mind.