Sam Amidon is fascinated with the songbook of old Americana, and his radical yet tasteful reimaginings of traditional folk ballads and hymns breathe new life into a form often seen as quaint and old-fashioned. Aided by a crew of collaborators who include singer Beth Orton and composer Nico Muhly, Amidon gives these songs vitality while paying tribute to their innate beauty and simplicity.
“Here Comes That Blood” is a jarring opener, a stark murder ballad made more imposing by shifting, uneasy percussion and the thudding, synthetic croaks of a Moog bass. The native Vermonter sings in an affected accent halfway between Ralph Stanley’s grizzled twang and Will Oldham’s delicate whisper.
His vocal versatility allows him to play the heavy to Orton on the finger-pointing “You Better Mind” and also to show his soft side on the breezy “Kedron.” The heartrending “Pretty Fair Damsel” is the emotional pinnacle, Amidon and Muhly transforming it into a gorgeous, blushing triumph, with swooning strings and sparkling piano carrying the worrying widow of the title to heights of tragic ecstasy. On I See the Sign, even the quietest moments sound bold.
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