Iron & Wine is the stage name for the musician Sam Beam. Beam is a pretty prolific songwriter who grew up in the suburban Midwest before moving to Florida & now resides in Austin, TX. Up until the release of his newest album, Iron & Wine has been a bit of a secret passed between friends one at a time, and his following has grown steadily as a result. Oh sure songs here & there have ended up on a few soundtracks & commercials. He’s shown up on Letterman & even Austin City Limits. His albums have even been met with some moderate critical success. But did anyone ever hear much about him? I didn’t. Maybe that’s a result of living in rural Southern Illinois surrounded by deer-huntin’ rednecks listening to equal parts Toby Keith & Eminem. But I digress.
My first exposure to Iron & Wine was an EP collaboration with Calexico called In the Reins that was loaned to me by a friend a month or so ago. It’s not bad, but I was familiar with Calexico already & wasn’t totally sure what to make of Beam’s contribution. I didn’t realize at the time that he had actually written all of the music. So, mostly on a whim I decided to buy The Shepherd’s Dog. To be honest I wasn’t even sure if I would like it all that much, but I wanted to give it a shot. It was a few days later that I first listened to it – that was yesterday. And I have to ask myself, “What took so dang long?”
Many reviewers have labeled this album as a departure from Beam’s earlier work. But from what I’ve heard of his first two albums, The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002) & Our Endless Numbered Days (2004), it doesn’t seem to be as much of a departure as an evolution. There are the same hushed smooth vocals, the same melodic grooves, the same cryptic lyrics, even the same harmony vocals by his sister Sarah. It’s just less acoustic. There are more instruments, more effects, production & arrangement. And it works. Of course it’s really not hard for it to have more production since the first two albums felt like a dude & his guitar making music on a 4-track in his bedroom; which, for the record, has its advantages too.
I pondered for a while trying to figure out just how to describe Beam’s music, but have so far been unsuccessful. It’s very Indie, but not really. It’s smooth folk-rock, kind of. It’s different but you feel like you’ve heard it before. I guess I should go with my gut & just say it’s good. I like it a lot. Here’s one of my favorites from this album, Boy with a Coin… hand-clap rhythm section & all!