It's difficult to describe how floored I was when, after becoming acquainted with the song, I learned that Sam Amidon's "Relief" was written by none other than R. Kelly. That's right, the very same R. "Checks under the bed/Then under the dresser/He looks at the closet/I pull out my Beretta" Kelly. Here is the original.
See, then I listened to it again and thought, "I'm alright and you're alright, so let's celebrate"... why didn't I notice how lame that lyric is the first time? Because in Sam's version, it isn't lame. Because of his casual but precise vocal delivery, because of Nico Muhly's ebbing and flowing arrangement. Because of an outpouring of that most elusive and essential of musical qualities, sincerity. When it meets sensitivity and intelligence, big things can happen.
I try to imagine the moment when he encountered that song and somehow managed to hear something in it. When he thought, "I can do something with that"--not just "I can," in fact, but "I'm going to." That's impressive. Even more so, the decision to place it on a record full of rearrangements of traditional songs, the only exceptions being one original and then this, "Relief," an R. Kelly cover. Can we reflect on the meaning of this gesture in our era of incessant ironic/masked-nostalgic '90s pop covers? No irony here. It's subtle and absolutely sincere, and I bought it entirely. Bold. I'm very impressed.
From the New York Times review: "he transforms all of [the songs], changing their colors and loading them with trapdoors."
Also, if there's a better argument out there that all music is folk music, I haven't found it.
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