I didn’t get on with ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’. I loved Sam Beam’s first two records, partly for their frail, bruised beauty, partly for the chime they struck with and against my fear of death, and partly because I could almost play them on the guitar. Almost, but not quite. Still, I had no problem with Beam, ever the Western frontiersman, pushing on into new territory with his third album. It’s just that the songs either weren’t that strong, or were swamped and flattened by the full band and their busier instrumentation. Tellingly, the best two tracks were those which could easily have come from ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’.
‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ is everything the last record should have been. It’s full, warm, at times complex but always admirably straightforward. Above all it’s confident and convincing. Listening with the others we drew a comparison with Tom Waits, not because of the sound, more through the feeling that Iron and Wine have got to this point by building from the bottom up, using whatever came to hand and mind, inventing rules of composition and tone as they go.
It’s very fine, from the swelling abstraction of ‘Walking Far From Home’ through the sweetheart country swoon ‘Tree By The River’ to the final sweep of ‘Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me’, a seven minute romp which begins with a proggy N’Orleans boogie, pulls a reverse ‘Paranoid Android’ gear change and finally kicks into a fervid, tumbling rush to salvation. This last track, perhaps Sam Beam’s best yet, seems to flash by in half the time of ‘The Trapeze Swinger’ Beam’s earlier 7-minute melody-mantra, a sure sign that he’s on to something rich and right.
Spotify link: Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Nick listened: My wife’s a fan so we already own a couple of Iron & Wine albums, but the downhome sound of the first couple didn’t really interest me. Sam Beam’s move into Califone-like territory on The Shepherd’s Dog, where texture and percussion became more important, appealed much more though, but, as Rob says, I wonder now whether the songs weren’t quite there. I’m not familiar enough with this one yet, but on the strength of hearing it and my wife’s curiosity at my description of it, we now own it. Without being glib, after a couple more listens it seems almost like a deliberate trip through the history of American music – a little bit of soul, a little bit of funk, a little bit of jazz, a little bit of country, a little bit of alt.rock – but there’s a lightness and a fluency that stops it feeling like an exercise and keeps it feeling like an album. Another winner.
Tom listened: For me, I doubt that Iron & Wine will ever match Our Endless Numbered Days and its wistful melancholy. I always found their first album a bit hit or miss but enjoyed The Shepard’s Dog and preferred the ‘different’ songs (‘Boy with a Coin’, ‘Carousel’, ‘Lovesong of the Buzzard’) to the ones that Rob has suggested in his write-up. So on one listen, I am not sure that the new album represents such a significant step up in terms of quality over its predecessor. I liked much of what I heard (although the groovy number on side two left me unconvinced) and liked the fact that Sam Beam is experimenting with his musical palate but, at the moment, am unconvinced that I need to own this album…a few listens on Spotify are required!