Being a reviewer becomes an unenviable situation when a record like Sam Amidon’s I See The Sign appears, completely changing a day (or a whole phase of existence) by helping to bear with escalating difficulties, and – maybe in a perfect dream – throwing a heavy stone in the stagnant waters of popular music. This is exactly the type of release that might revolutionize the current unrecoverable state of things, if just people started to listen a little more attentively. Everything points to the “epochal masterpiece” status – because this IS an epochal masterpiece – placing it side by side with the finest albums of the last four decades, independently from the genre. Everything. Memorisable tunes, impressive arrangements (by Amidon himself and Nico Muhly), a welcome female counterpart (Beth Orton). Sorrow, fun, grace, any kind of emotion. And that unique voice. Mark these words: one day, the kid’s detachedly non-virtuosic accent will be filed among the immediately recognizable timbres of celebrated songwriters such as James Taylor or Tim Buckley (or – why not – Antony Hegarty). He may be working on traditional songs, ballads and hymns, yet the pieces are perceived as personal statements. And they strike the bull’s eye of your individual essence.
That would be sufficient already. Let me mention a few episodes, though, many of which linked consecutively in the program. “You Better Mind”, a deliciously pop tune – sang in duet with Orton – that’s going to put eternally overhyped Prefab Sprout to shame; the title track, a symbol of the infeasibility of describing our sentiments if not through someone else’s music. “Johanna The Row-di” is enough to transport yours truly back to the primordial eras of private fingerpicking studies (breaking his heart in the meantime) while the orchestration of “Pretty Fair Damsel” is alone a lesson in the harmonization of a melody. “Kedron” is another of the countless highs, Amidon’s solitary frail tone accompanied by an acoustic guitar’s arpeggio and meagre touches of strings.
There are instrumental solutions whose quality is also instantly acknowledgeable: in “Rain And Snow”, for example, a drum roll seems to prelude to a powerful opening at one point, only to leave room to a melancholic sequence of rarefied piano chords. The bump-on-wood pulse characterizing “Climbing High Mountains” sustains an effortless song marvellously enriched by contrapuntal lines of horn and bassoon and – again – subtle piano and guitar. The record is chock full of these gems: distant references to Jim O’Rourke and Van Dyke Parks come easy, but this young man is in a class of his own. Two additional fundamental presences help elevating the rank: producer Valgeir Sigurđsson and multi-instrumentalist wizard Shahzad Ismaily, a former collaborator of Tom Waits, Laurie Anderson and Rage Against The Machine.
In the equally gorgeous “Relief”, the lyrics recite: “What a relief to know that there’s an angel in the sky”. Judging from the emotional response that both myself and my life companion experience every time we’re listening to this album, that feeling is substantiated by having actually heard that angel sing. You could do it, too, letting this disc spin incessantly in your homes. Rewind to the initial sentence: what about the objectivity of a write-up, I hear somebody asking. Who fucking cares, is the answer. Sam Amidon gained a ticket to the pantheon of the greats, and watching this happening three years after intuiting something (when reviewing the previous All Is Well on the same label) feels great. Now let’s see if a clever dissemination of this work can educate the masses at least a bit by eradicating the concept of “disposable product” from those brains.