With his latest album heading for retail shelves and interweb marketplaces in January, I thought I would write about Sam Beam’s career up until now. There’s a lot to be said about this Grizzly Adams looking songsmith. His whispery anthems written and released under the name Iron and Wine have touched thousands of people including myself. His lyrics have a way of tearing into your soul and pulling out its sorrow logged heart only to ring out said sorrow then cram it back in. Then the next song will usually start to fill your heart right back up with sorrow. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s a folk thing. It’s why one listens to Iron and Wine and others like him in the first place. It just so happens that Mr. Beam has cornered the market on the folk end of things. With only the likes of Jack Johnson as competition, it would seem he’s got at least 180 degrees of clear sailing on the horizon.
From his first full length, 2002’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, Beam had me wrangled. A friend recommended it to me shortly after it came out. He had heard me rockin’ some Gordon LIghtfoot and thought it was a prudent suggestion. It was gloriously prudent, turns out. So I traded in Gord’s Gold for some late model folk. Cradle is a modest piece of work. It’s quiet, most of the time just a guitar or two, the occasional banjo, and Beam whispering, almost literally whispering, into a microphone. Percussion is all but completely absent but for a few taps on the body of a guitar here and there, at best an almost inaudible snare. Very basement recording type material. It’s the skeletal nature of the album that makes it so good, and a great foundation for Iron and Wine’s catalogue.
Two years later Beam released his 2nd LP, Our Endless Numbered Days. It boasted a more polished sound. With the addition of a rhythm section(still not much more than a few snare drums and a bass guitar), and a more confident sounding vocal track, Iron and Wine started to sound more shiny and well produced. Everything is just a bit more clear. More aggressive lyrically as well. Songs like “Teeth in the Grass” and “Free Until They Cut Me Down” are sharp tongued moody wonders. Very cool to hear from the oh so previously timid artist. Though beautiful lyrics like”I want your flowers like babies want God’s love” are still very present and accounted for. It was another gorgeous album under his belt which left the listener with nothing but high expectations of things to come.
Expectations met! 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, in this humble blogger’s opinion, trampled over anything previously released by Beam. Just a lush, triumphant set of tunes. Spectacular top to bottom. Even the cover art is tiers above the previous sleeves. ON POINT!! Entirely. The growth from Cradle to Shepherd’s Dog is astounding. It is evident in everything from the lyrics to the instrumentation to the production quality. Listen to “Boy With a Coin” or “Resurrection Fern” and tell me this album isn’t every bit as awesome as I am describing. I double dog dare you!
Since then, Beam has released a two-disc rarities album entitled Around the Well which is peppered with some really good tracks and some really basic ones. It’s definitely worth picking up if you are a big fan, but I wouldn’t start there. I am eagerly awaiting Iron and Wine’s forthcoming album Kiss Each Other Clean, even though it has been described as a pop album by Beam himself. He has also described it as having elements of african music and jazz as well. Given his track record, I’m not afraid. All we can do is wait until January to find out.