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Sam Amidon - I See The Sign

A child of folkies, singer/guitarist/banjo player Sam Amidon knows plenty of traditional American songs, but his intriguing versions are far from straight up. Singing in an imperfect but appealing voice that brings to mind Will Oldham, Amidon doesn’t lean on the material; instead he lets the songs’ power come through by displaying restraint. The ballads, children’s songs, and religious tunes that appear on 2010’s I See the Sign are gorgeously rendered by Amidon, arranger Nico Muhly, and others. This album is a good example of how the raw and the cooked can be combined to striking effect. The big contrast here is between Amidon’s plain voice and Muhly’s refined string, brass, and wind writing. The pairing works perfectly, in part due to Valgeir Sigurdsson’s superb production. Two of the album’s standouts appear back to back. On the title track, Shahzad Ismaily’s unusual drumming and a dazzling arrangement provide an inventive backdrop for Amidon’s quietly insistent singing. “Johanna the Row-di,” rendered more sparely than the previous cut, is just as touching, and Beth Orton’s backup vocals are lovely.

Released April 10, 2010