I’ve never been the hugest Iron & Wine fan, but recently I’ve come to appreciate their greatness. Not only does Samuel Beam have a fantastic name, a glorious beard, and a pretty cool job-history (he was a professor of film and cinematography and U of Miami before making becoming a successful recording artists), but he’s been able to create some of the most soulful and beautiful acoustic music we’ve seen in the last decade.
His new album, “Kiss Each Other Clean,” begins in this manner. Walking Far From Home is a wonderfully lush song, with syrupy vocals that just seem to drip out of the microphone. From there, the album gets a bit weird. Me And Lazarus sounds like a funk song being played underwater – driven by a bass line, a saxophone, and some weird studio sounds. It’s certainly different and certainly creative, but not really his best work. Tree By The River retains the vocal depth that we’re used to in Mr. Beam’s work, but it still seems a bit overdone – as if it would’ve sounded better with a basic band and none of the studio sheen – more like it was performed when they debuted the album live, a few weeks ago. From there, the album continues moving back and forth between the I&W we expect and love (Half Moon, Godless Brother In Love), and the tracks that have clearly taken advantage of quirky studio (Monkeys Uptown, Big Burned Hand, Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me) sounds.
Yet Beam does manage to find a nice balance between these extremes for a few songs. Rabbit Will Run strikes this balance with quiet brilliance, combining a bit of a funk sound, with Afro-beats, and Beam’s soul seeking vocals. Glad Man Singing is also able to find that sweet spot between studio sheen and raw performance, with one of Samuel’s most beautifully hopeful songs yet.
The album is a departure of sorts – it’s the first time Beam isn’t content using just his guitar and his voice. It’s always admirable, though sometimes disastrous when a musician moves into new musical territory. And while some of the songs on this album seem to be a bit on the weird side of the spectrum, the great songs, his lyrical brilliance, and the way this album sounds live will keep this one in my headphones for a while.
Iron & Wine – Rabbit Will Run
Iron & Wine – Glad Man Singing