Sam Amidon and Thomas Bartlett break away from the sweet indie pop of their Doveman work and instead explore traditional folk. On their collaborative debut, But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted, a sad, pretty record that moves effortlessly from slow indie rock to folk, they cover old field songs -- as well as a Tears for Fears track, "Head Over Heels" -- with a touching sensitivity. Sometimes the duo sticks more closely to the original arrangement and instrumentation, with the necessary emphatic banjos, picked acoustic guitars, and twanged vocals, like on the rollicking "Rocky Island," the broken love of "Falsehearted Chicken," or the bluesy "Another Man Done Gone" (which Johnny Cash performed a cappella), but more often they add instruments -- Wurlitzer, electric guitar, organ, accordion -- to give a fuller, more contemporary, and often more melancholic sound to the pieces. While the Mississippi John Hurt cover, "Louis Collins," is certainly sad when played by the bluesman on his acoustic guitar, Amidon has such longing in his voice that, when paired with Bartlett's simple drums and the sustained organ chords, the line "The angels laid him awake/Laid him six feet under the clay" becomes one of desperation and pain rather than redemption and hope. Amidon and Bartlett's power lies in their subtlety, how they layer without overstating, keeping the integrity of the original while bringing on something of the modern. Even the (very few) times that a distorted electric guitar comes in, like in "True Born Sons of Levi" -- in which Amidon's tenor cracks marvelously -- it doesn't overpower the rest of the song; it only works to emphasize the emotion already there. The tracks are reinterpreted but not reinvented, respecting the craft of the writers while still allowing for creative adaptation. Sam Amidon and Thomas Bartlett breathe new life into old and sometimes forgotten songs, which ends up making But This Chicken Proved Falsehearted a fantastic listen.
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown