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What I’m listening to this week: Iron and Wine

June 25, 2009

The Shepherd’s Dog – 2007

Sam Beam, the lyricist, voice, and driving force of Iron and Wine, basically came out of nowhere in 2002.   His unique sound and ability helped him quickly find a place in the indie scene; hushed yet warm vocals, barely above a whisper at times, sparse, hollow acoustic instrumentation, and almost preternatural songwriting, able to conjure up scene after scene of bygone Southern years.   Five years later, after a collaboration with Calexico, The Shepherd’s Dog found Iron and Wine significantly more lush by all accounts, but sacrificing none of the qualities which make them so special.

The difference between The Shepherd’s Dog and other Iron and Wine albums is immediately apparent on the jangly intro “Pagan Angel and A Borrowed Car”, with the presence of diverse instruments that will appear throughout the album; pianos, accordions, organs, and even reverb is used as a tool.  The album is beautifully produced; the tracks flow seamlessly together despite the various themes and rhythms employed.

There are many highlights on the album and each song is evocative of a different mood so that your favorite could easily depend on how you felt that day.  “White Tooth Man” is brooding and frantic, “Lovesong Of The Buzzard” is reflective and intimate, “Peace Beneath the City” and “House By The Sea” are slinky and dark, and the last track “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” is simultaneously inspiring and bittersweet.  “Carousel” and “Resurrection Fern” are like the wistful and gentle Iron and Wine of previous albums, and so are “Innocent Bones” and “Boy with a Coin”, except the last two tracks have more intricate and expressive musical compositions that are both delicate and emotive, consistent with the step forward taken on The Shepherd’s Dog.  And in all places, Beam’s voice sounds out brilliantly.

There are also a couple of songs on the album which are just straight up accomplishments for Iron and Wine.  Those are “Wolves (Song Of The Shepherd’s Dog)”, which has an ethnic drum beat and dissolves into several minutes of reverberating guitars and piano, and “The Devil Never Sleeps”, a track with a major jazz piano influence along with call-and-answer vocals and a very uncharacteristic uptempo electric guitar.

I was lucky enough to see Iron and Wine perform twice last year, once at a taping for Austin City Limits and once at the festival itself.  It’s obvious when you watch them live, particularly Beam, how much effort goes into carefully crafting each song.  He’ll be performing a solo set at the Paramount Theatre July 27th.  Do yourself and favor and get The Shepherd’s Dog, and then don’t miss his live show.

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