Review: Sam Amidon’s All is Well

Kind of the Appalachian Sufjan Stevens.

Sam AmidonAll Is Well(Bedroom Community)The first half-dozen times I listened to All Is Well, Sam Amidon's second album of folk music, I loved the songs and hated the singer. In "Saro," one of this year's most beautiful songs, arrangers Nico Muhly and Valgeir Sigurðsson (aka Friends of Björk) have swaddled Amidon's spare, flat voice in softly picked guitars, fluttering flutes, a lowing trumpet, and the bassoon's deep moan; composer Muhly's minimalist sensibilities come through in the locust swarms of violins that circle rhythmically around the melody. The Brooklyn-based Amidon grew up playing folk music around New England, and he often sounds like an Appalachian Sufjan Stevens, his voice dying out by the end of the phrase as if he'd long ago eaten the last spoonful of cornmeal mush in the house. And while I have no doubt that Mr. Amidon is a Sensitive Young Man—just look at his thin chest on the cover, marked with a palm-shaped welt—each time I listen to this album, what emerges more clearly is his respect for these centuries-old songs and the cruelty and yearning they contain. He feels no need to add to the pathos of lyrics like "So I drew a revolver from my side/and I shot at the poor boy's soul/he rambled and he scrambled all around the ground/and he let out a dreadful moan" ("Wild Bill Jones"). So he sings it plain.

 
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