The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Iron & Wine Creates a Masterpiece

I've always found Iron & Wine a little boring in a polite acoustic coffee-shop sort of way. Good but still...A little too sterile, a little too simple, a little too repetitive. Every song shared the same hushed Nick Drake/Sufjan Stevens/child molester whisper, skeletal but pretty arrangements and a sort of general soporific romance vibe that made it the de facto soundtrack for a generation of indie-skewing freshmen trying to spit game by playing the Garden State soundtrack to drunken sorority girls on futons.

But let it be said, that none of his previous output has a thing on his latest record,The Shepherd's Dog, a startling sonic evolution that figures to be one of 2007's best and one that catapults Sam Beam into the first-tier of American singer-songwriters.

Ian Cohen has compared Beam's artistic arc to My Morning Jacket, who went from the drowsy pastoral sketches of At Dawn to the drugged and powerful psychedelia of Z in just a few years. And I'd have to agree, with the analogy becoming fully apt somewhere in the second minute of the second song, "White Tooth Man." On that track, Beam learns to let loose, shedding his restrained academic trappings (dude used to teach Film and Cinematography at Miami International) and going for the brass ring, twisting off off a jangling, unsettling jam, full of slinking sitars and lyrics of white toothed men selling guns and plain clothed cops talking to Indian chiefs and other nonsensical vivid technicolor images. In other words, it's the moment Sam Beam became Great.
Little Known Fact: Iron & Wine lead singer Sam Beam used to play Bass in ZZ Top

Beam's said in interviews that he wanted Shepherd's Dog to be "more playful" than his past efforts and that imprimatur is felt throughout. Think of the title track from his '05 Women King EP as the jumping off-point: more upbeat, more experimental, more consistently rewarding. It's not that Beam has abandoned his his bread and butter folk-roots, Shepherd's Dog is still full of soft-spoken confessional type stuff, but it merely has a better balance.

At times, Beam's growth is astonishing, with two-minute tracks like "The Devil Never Sleeps" showcasing rollicking pianos and a locomotive rhythm section, punctuated by bursts of electric guitar that sounds like The Basement Tapes. crossed with Califone's "Roots and Crowns" record.

It's a long way from the Creek that Drank the Cradle, but Beam has distilled the best elements of his Southern Gothic lyrics and let the arrangements breath out from the twisting Kudzu that had previously restrained them, recording a masterful record that figures to have few peers this year, or any year. Set to drop on Sept. 25th, The Shepherd's Dog will be hitting stores just in time for the start of the fall semester. Needless to say, I wouldn't want to be a futon right now.

Iron & Wine-"Boy With a Coin"

Iron and Wine - Southern Anthem
Mp3: Iron and Wine - Lions Mane

Mp3: Iron and Wine - Jesus the Mexican Boy
Mp3: Iron and Wine - Naked As We Came
Mp3: Iron and Wine - Woman King


At 5:20 PM, Blogger kiss out the jams said...

I'll have to peep this then. I agree on that MMJ analogy. I kind of politely nodded at the first few I&W records and really gave it up for In The Reins because I think Calexico fleshed him out. I don't know if you know this, but he's secretly a motherfucker live.

At 8:35 PM, Blogger DudeAsInCool said...

I like what ive heard so far - thanx for the review

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

A great sampling! Thanks

At 11:04 PM, Blogger motovres said...

great post - is that the official cover art - hadn't seen it yet.

anywayz, i'm lookin for the show iron and wine played at Messiah in February - it's avail on PAssing Afternoon, but I CAN'T SEEM TO GET REGISTERED TO THE FORUMS!!!

please help if you can, thanks

At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hands down one of the most obnoxious music reviews I've ever read. Your site should be taken from you, immediately.

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Alissa said...

You can find the actual cover art for this album here:

Thanks for the Iron and Wine post!

At 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just listening in . . . shoot the messenger, on the futon.

First impression.

Definitely more LAYERED. Dive in! Takes a while to get down to the essentials but fun trip. Not that much different from previous work then. It makes sense he's in film because his playing is like "visual," lot's of pics flitting in and out of his songs with the music as soundtrack.

I think I like it best yet.


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