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.
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.
Mp3: Iron & Wine-"Boy With a Coin"
Mp3: 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