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I See the Sign [Digipak]
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Album: I See the Sign [Digipak]
# Song Title   Time
1)    How Come That Blood
2)    Way Go, Lily
3)    You Better Mind
4)    I See the Sign
5)    Johanna the Row-Di
6)    Pretty Fair Damsel
7)    Kedron
8)    Rain and Snow
9)    Climbing High Mountains
10)    Relief
11)    Red
 
Product Details
Performer Notes
  • Personnel: Sam Amidon (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo); Shahzad Ismaily (vocals, various instruments, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mini-Moog synthesizer, drums, percussion); Beth Orton (vocals, nylon-string guitar); Ben Frost (electric guitar); Una Sveinbjarnard¢ttir, Sigr£n Edvaldsd¢ttir (violin); _¢rarinn M r Baldursson (viola); Hrafnkell Orri Egilsson (cello); Melkorka Olafsd¢ttir (flute); Helga Bj”rg Arnard¢ttir (clarinet); Matth¡as Nardeau (oboe, English horn); Rebekka Bryand¡s Bj”rnsd¢ttir (bassoon); Helgi Hrafn J¢nsson (trombone); Nico Muhly (piano, celesta, harmonium); Valgeir Sigurdsson (mini-Moog synthesizer, percussion, programming).
  • Audio Mixer: Valgeir Sigurdsson.
  • Liner Note Author: Sam Amidon.
  • Recording information: Greenhouse Studios.
  • Arrangers: Sam Amidon; Nico Muhly.
  • This is the third set of interpretations of (primarily) traditional, public domain material from multivalent modern folk artist Sam Amidon. Like its predecessor, 2007's All Is Well, it was recorded in Iceland with producer Valgeir Sigurdsson and features the subtle, masterful orchestral arrangements of Nico Muhly; key contributions also come from drummer/percussionist Shahzad Ismaily and from Beth Orton, who sings alongside Amidon on four songs. Each of these collaborators adds to the album's rich, expansive, textural palette, allowing considerable psychological range within its generously subdued tone, from the urgency of opening murder ballad "How Come That Blood" (with Ismaily's tense, churning percussion and pointed mini-Moog jabs) to the lush, billowing sweetness of "Pretty Fair Damsel" (Muhly's florid celeste and woodwind figures), and the fluid tranquility of "Climbing High Mountains" (a restful treatment that tempers the song's world-weary lyric.) But always at the forefront are Amidon's voice --which recalls Will Oldham in its restraint and slight rustic roughness -- and, especially, the songs he has chosen to make his own. These include several tunes from the Georgia Sea Islands, learned (via Amidon's folksinging parents) from the powerful renditions of Bessie Jones, and sung in duet with Orton:ÿthe "singing-game" "Johanna the Row-Di" and "Way Go, Lily" (refashioned from a peppy handclapping jingle into a gently yearning ballad), and the admonishing folk-gospel number "You Better Mind," given a fervent, rousing reading and a vigorous arrangement that's at once stately and spirited. Christian themes (and apocalyptic imagery) crop up elsewhere, notably on the spare, somberly portentous title track and the simply sung lament "Kedron," but even the selections that aren't explicitly religious are treated with a gospel-like solemnity and directness of feeling. Muhly's playfully inventive arrangements work marvelously throughout to complement this seriousness with a delicate balance of levity, but the album's most lighthearted (and unexpected) moment is also perhaps its most spiritual: "Relief," a simple, deeply felt paean to the persevering goodness of life, might appear in this context like an old-time folk number -- after all, what kind of knucklehead would pen a line like "what a relief to know that the war is over" in days like these? -- but in fact it's by R. Kelly, salvaged from the unreleased 2008 fiasco 12 Play: 4th Quarter. And it's stunningly gorgeous; further confirmation, if any were needed, that Amidon's instincts and talents as a musical conservationist, interpreter, and reanimator are to be wholly trusted and cherished. ~ K. Ross Hoffman
Professional Reviews
Spin (p.84) - "[Amidon works] quirky alchemy here, reinventing public domain songs as rustic mood music for watching distant supernovas explode."

Mojo (Publisher) (p.55) - Ranked #22 in Mojo's "The 50 Best Albums Of 2010" -- "[S]omething fresh yet based in folkloric warmth."

Pitchfork (Website) - "Much of I SEE THE SIGN's success can be chalked up to its arrangements, which are fractured and frequently off-kilter."

Uncut (magazine) (p.83) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "I SEE THE SIGN inhabits an enchanted universe, not a million miles from Sufjan Stevens' MICHIGAN."
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