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Iron & Wine - Sam Beam struts his funky stuff
on 24 January 2011
Barely a month into 2011 and we are in real danger of being spoiled. In a matter of a week first we get the Decemberists magnificent "The King is Dead" and now master musician Sam Beam and his musical collective "Iron and Wine" release their fourth studio album "Kiss each other clean". Beam is a man on a musical journey from the Will Oldham inspired raw beauty of "Our endlessly numbered days" to the wider vista's of 2007's "The Shepherd's dog". A stunning live version of this new album has streamed on NPR for two weeks and I wondered how the studio versions could better some of the songs from that session; but they do and largely because Beam has painted over a much broader musical palette on this album than any of his previous releases. If you desire yet other autumnal dose of beautifully poignant Iron and Wine songs such as the achingly lovely "Fever Dream", "Such great heights" or "Naked as we come" this album is going to come as a bit of a surprise, albeit a nice one.
This is a deeply textured and layered album full of instrumentation of all shapes and sizes combined with, dare we whisper it, a real sense of fun. The great opener "Walking from home" is within traditional Iron and Wine territory with a Dylan style observational lyric and wonderful angelic backing vocals which at around 3.20 is interrupted with a bass like synth. Overall a splendid start. Contrast this with a song from later within the album "Big burned hand" which bounds along for underpinned by a funky dirty saxophone and lyrics which Amazon will not let us describe (the album is well interspersed with occasional profanities). Lets also state that with Big Burned, along with a number of other tracks, a bop around the dance floor is not only possible but also probably desirable.
In this context take "Me and Lazarus" seems to this reviewer to evoke the ghost of Lowell George with that sort of clipped Southern funk so beloved of Little Feat. "Tree by the river" revels in gorgeous nostalgia and could be a Josh Ritter song in its exuberance, while "Half moon" is a more reflective acoustic ballad. Two songs which are absolute stand out's are "Monkeys Uptown" which starts with bass and bells and then moves into a rubbery grove which George Clinton would have been proud of. While "Rabbit will run" again begins with those chiming bells and slowly builds into one of the finest reflective songs Beam has ever recorded full of vivid lyrical imagery and almost African style instrumentation. "Godless brother in lover" is a great title and classic heartbreaker Beam piano ballad while "Glad man singing" does have real echoes of Hall and Oates that is not a bad thing in this reviewers humble opinion and is a excellent pop song. It is all brought to a close with the seven minute "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me" a jazz funk workout full of horns and litanies, demanding nothing more than your sheer enjoyment.
For Iron and Wine's Sam Beam this album represents a real sense of progression and experimentation. It is achieved thankfully without sacrificing the song writing quality, which has made Beam such a critics favourites and built a fanatical following. One health warning is that Iron and Wine are this reviewers current overwhelming obsession and no day passes without reference to their albums, thus a new listener may wish also to refer back to previous Beam output to get a fuller picture. That said "Kiss each other clean" would make a great starting point since this is an album you will be playing for at least the next twelve years as opposed to a mere twelve months. Highly recommended