Next Tuesday, Iron & Wine (aka Sam Beam) will release 16 tracks that were recorded in the late 90s and early 2000s when he was working in film production and teaching art school in Miami. We have not heard anything new since the release of 2013’s Ghost On Ghost.
We listened to the new or should we say old album and here we leave with you our first impressions.
Certain singers produce music that seems ideally suited for a specific season or even a particular time of day. Iron & Wine has always felt like late summertime sunset music. Sam Beam’s acoustic guitar work and the warmth of his honeyed vocals capture the feeling of being barefoot outdoors on lazy afternoons that become languid evenings watching fireflies from a porch swing. The essence of the North Carolina native’s music is unmistakably southern: laid back, unhurried, and gracious. These songs – like most of his catalog – still draw inspiration from nature, so there is no shortage of references to birds or bodies of water.
“Slow Black River” has a rough-hewn sound one would expect from a demo made at home on a four-track recorder. The sparse, Southern Gothic-imbued grittiness of this song could have accompanied many a scene on the HBO series True Detective because Beam’s usually soft-spoken vocals on this song have a gravelly quality that conjure long drives on a dusty road. This is not the ideal introductory song for someone unfamiliar with Iron & Wine; it is likely to be appreciated more by diehard fans.
“The Wind is Low” and “Freckled Girl” are reminiscent of his 2004 release Our Endless Numbered Days. Those songs (along with “Eden” and “Your Sly Smile”) have his signature ambling cadence that is perfectly matched to a leisurely stroll while “Sing Song Bird” sounds like a precursor to “Naked As We Came.”
Although these 16 tracks were recorded some 15 years ago (or longer) and pre-date his 2002 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, the feel is quite similar. If his later albums were full-color paintings, this one is a collection of the pencil sketches.
It’s always interesting to hear an artist’s original songs, to learn where it all started. For many artists, their trajectory has changed multiple directions before finding their target, unless you’re Radiohead who are constantly finding new flight paths.
For Sam Beam, he found his calling at an early age and hasn’t deviated much from him. To hear these 16, previously unreleased tracks is like hearing something from any of his albums, whether The Creek Drank the Cradle or Ghost on Ghost, and there’s something to applaud about consistency – consistency in sound, songwriting, and Beam’s unique and glorious voice.
Like so many of his albums, the opening tracks start off quietly, lulling the listener before a track really catches your ear, such as the terrific ballad “Eden”. “Judgement” and “Sing Song Bird” are back-to-back gems in the middle of the album. And there’s something about “Minor Piano Keys” that is appealing. It’s slightly different from Beam’s past efforts. It has a dark, brooding, Western feel to it – a song to be sung on those dreary nights out in the desert. It’s a pretty marvelous track.
For fans of Iron & Wine, Archive Series Volume No. 1 will be a treat. It tells us stories that we knew and verifying our belief of the impeccable songwriting of Sam Beam. It might not draw in new fans (unless he lands another spot on the soundtrack of a teenage vampire movie), but it’s still an album to be heard and enjoyed. Thumbs up.
The Archive Series Volume No. 1 could pretty much be a companion album to The Creek Drank the Cradle considering they were both from around the same time and feel a bit similar. Guessing from the label of No.1, that means there could be more archives to come, who knows how many unreleased songs he created during that timeframe.
After hearing the first released single that we included on our playlist the other day, “Everyone’s Summer of ’95”, the feel and vibe from the entire 16 tracks is comfortable nostalgia. Beam has a way of setting a calming and soothing tone and with his other works, just like Ben mentioned he is consistent in his delivery.
My favorite tracks are “Freckled Girl”, “Sing Song Bird”, and “Minor Piano Keys”. I’m sure longtime fans of Beam will be excited and satisfied with his new..or well old tracks that are just now being released. He may even gain a new fan or two. Thumbs Up for me.
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