On Sam Amidon’s fourth solo release, I See the Sign, the indie-folk artist balances timeless traditionalism with contemporary touches, resulting in one of this year’s finest folk-inclined albums. Amidon gets singular assistance from composer/arranger Nico Muhly and multi-instrumentalist Shazad Ismaily, who add a wide audio vocabulary to rustic tales about faith, fidelity and affection.

Amidon’s whispered voice is akin to Iron & Wine’s Sam Bush, while the fusion of supple melodies with erudite arrangements should appeal to Johanna Newsom or Sufjan Stevens fans. Intent details make Amidon’s efforts stand out, such as the slow build during “I See the Light,” the horns and strings which underscore “Pretty Fair Damsel” or the dusky discordance that perforates closer “Red.” Highlights include three duets with like-minded Beth Orton, particularly the pop piece “You Better Mind,” and a cover of R. Kelly’s unreleased and surprisingly tender “Relief,” a celebration of life’s little victories.

Grade: A



I See the Sign is currently available.