Review Summary: All is Well is a small, touching gem, and one that cements Amidon's place as a true poet.
When the prolific Jesu settled on an October release date for the emotionally upended Lifeline EP
, it seemed more than fitting. The album and its creator were full of masked tricks and unspoken identities, and here was an artist lifting his proverbial mask in light of Halloween. And though Sam Amidon’s second release would be circled around in fall of 2007 to small but important critical acclaim, its official release would eventually fall into the trappings of a subsequent holiday much the same way, just one week before Valentine’s Day. Of course it’s a coincidence, but for soft-spoken lovers everywhere, fate seems to seep out of the folklore of All is Well
and right into their laps, which doesn’t seem far off from Amidon (here Samamidon) and his powerful and heartbreaking balladry, marked by the red palm on his bare chest and back.
This serves as a friendly reminder, lest we mistake All is Well
for something actually suited for its title. Samamidon represents a thoroughly depressing album, made up of stories handed down for years and years through folklore and tales. They all come out as simple and heartfelt, but in the care of Amidon and collaborator Nico Muhly, are not without their challenges. This is first glimpsed within the confines of the loving sweep of horns to first single “Saro,” built upon the foundation of persistent plucks and the flit of flutes. Amidon’s deep croak of a voice is never pushed or shoved, sitting quite plainly on the beautiful arrangements that surround him; he is essentially both All is Well
’s weakest asset and greatest strength, a worn out artist with a love for his art. When he sings, “I wish I was a poet, could write infinite… I’d write my lover a letter, one she’d long understand,” there’s a sad intimacy that makes the song all his own.
This is to say that every song sparkles with life, no matter their pacing or meaning. The album’s only stumble, opener “Sugar Baby” (of old-time songwriter Dock Boggs) still rides easy on the passion brewing beneath the simple acoustic drone it plays in. Its successors easily make up for the slack, “Little Johnny Brown” immediately following and flowing with a sinister energy not unlike that of an old western, with low fiddling strings and berated horns. So too does “Wild Bill Jones” treats its tranquil slides and harmony with a sinister edge, glimpsed instead in Amidon’s performance of the violent and bloody lyrics. With the help of careful track arrangement, the oppressive weight of the All is Well
’s openers find release in the gentle frolic of “Wedding Dress” and “Fall on My Knees.” The former could have easily been collaborated with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, a slight upturn into pop for Amidon that fits perfectly with the march of drums and trumpets. “It’s already made, trimmed and green; prettiest thing you’ve ever seen” is about as charming as Amidon gets in the whole of All is Well
Still, All is Well
is at its strongest under the melancholic despair of tracks like “O Death” and “Prodigal Son” (Dock Boggs again), both drenched in languished mood and tone. It all leads up to the most striking and heartfelt title track, a slow, bell sprinkled build-up undercut with a tender piano melody. “All is Well” most reflects the Icelandic landscape in which it was recorded (with the aid of producer Valgeir Sigur∂sson), interjected with violins and woodwind instruments frequented in post-rock bands not unlike Sigur Ros. As it ends, it’s easy to see that, as a fault, All is Well
becomes too “same-y,” consistent in texture and sound. But as a strength, this only helps to flesh out All is Well
as a complete album. All is Well
is a small, touching gem, and one that cements Amidon’s place as a true poet.