Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine is the name that singer/songwriter Sam Beam uses to send his intimate and heartfelt indie folk out into the world. His deeply burnished vocals, keen melodic sensibility, and introspective, free-flowing lyrical viewpoint combine to give him a singular artistic vision. The first Iron & Wine album (2002's lo-fi classic The Creek Drank the Cradle) made Beam one of the preeminent artists of the first wave of indie folk. Despite the album's success, he was loath to repeat himself, and Iron & Wine constantly shifted its musical identity over the years, making records that were diverse and political (2007's Shepherd's Dog), studio-slick and played by a big band (2011's Kiss Each Other Clean), or relaxed and pastoral (2017's Beast Epic). No matter the approach, Beam's vocals and songs have remained strong, and the records he's made have both challenged and comforted listeners. Beam chose the moniker Iron & Wine after coming across a dietary supplement named "Beef Iron & Wine" while working on a film. Raised in South Carolina, Beam received his Bachelor's degree in art from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and later his Master of Fine Arts degree from Florida State University film school. All along he had been writing songs, but once a friend lent him a four-track he began recording them in his bedroom. He sent demos to friends, a song ended up on a compilation, and his music caught the ear of Jonathan Poneman, co-owner of Sub Pop Records. He requested that additional material be sent to the label for submission, and Beam responded by sending two CDs in the mail -- both of them full-length albums. Poneman considered releasing them both, but instead slimmed the set down to 12 songs and released it in September 2002 as The Creek Drank the Cradle. The similarly themed The Sea & the Rhythm EP followed in 2003. It was Beam's 2004 full-length, Our Endless Numbered Days, that signaled his arrival on the indie pop scene. Recorded in Chicago with producer Brian Deck, the album was resolutely hi-fi, but the addition of a full band only illuminated Beam's deft lyricism and intimate vocal delivery, resulting in one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. Late 2004 found the newly marketable Iron & Wine popping up on television commercials and movie soundtracks (In Good Company, Garden State), culminating in a busy 2005 that saw Beam release two EPs, the lush Woman King and In the Reins, a collaboration with Arizona spaghetti Western aficionados Calexico. The politically charged Shepherd's Dog, Beam and company's most diverse -- and most listenable -- record to date, was released in 2007. A two-disc collection of B-sides, rarities, soundtrack inclusions, and discarded tracks from the Iron & Wine archives called Around the Well arrived in early 2009. Kiss Each Other Clean, Iron & Wine's first collection of new music in nearly three years and one that found Beam further expanding the group's sound, was released in January 2011 by their new label, Warner Bros. After a move to 4AD and Nonesuch, Iron & Wine released the more relaxed and intimate Ghost on Ghost in early 2013. The Brian Deck-produced album featured jazz drummer Brian Blade and bassist Tony Garnier of Bob Dylan's band, among others. Over the next few years, Beam stayed busy working with other artists. In 2015, he and Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell released an album of covers called Sing Into My Mouth, and in 2016 Beam and singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop collaborated on Love Letter for Fire. Later that year, Beam went back to the studio with a band that included longtime Iron & Wine collaborators keyboardist Rob Burger, percussionist Joe Adamik, and string player Jim Becker, and began work on the next Iron & Wine album. It was produced by Beam in stripped-down fashion using mostly live takes and minimal overdubs. Fittingly, the return to the way he used to make records was matched by a return to the band's old label, Sub Pop. They issued Beast Epic in August of 2017. During the tour that followed, the same band took a couple days at a Chicago studio to record a handful of songs written for Beast Epic that didn't make the final cut. They also cut a version of longtime fan favorite "Waves of Galveston" for the EP, which was titled Weed Garden and issued by Sub Pop in August of 2018. Around that time, Beam rekindled a long-simmering collaboration with Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico. The trio were joined by a number of musicians for five days of sessions in Nashville at Sound Emporium studios. Unlike 2005's joint EP In the Reins, which was all composed by Beam, Convertino and Burns contributed songs this time and the resulting album seamlessly blended the songcraft and intimacy of Iron & Wine with the dusty, widescreen desert sounds of Calexico. Years to Burn was issued in June of 2019 by Sub Pop. In 2021, Sub Pop released Archive Series No.5: Tallahassee Recordings, a set of songs recorded over the course of 1998-99 while Beam was a student at Florida State University. He was helped out by roommate and future Iron & Wine bandmate EJ Holowicki on bass.
© James Christopher Monger /TiVo
© James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 17, 2015 | Black Cricket - Brown Records
It turns out that bearded gents Sam Beam of Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses were friends in their hometown of Columbia, South Carolina back before they were ever touring-bill companions or Sub Pop labelmates (mid- to late aughts), and well before they recorded a covers album together. Perhaps a studio collaboration was inevitable or even overdue given their amity, frequent path-crossing, and shared tastes and influences represented small-scale here on the 12-track Sing Into My Mouth. The title is taken from lyrics in the opening track, "This Must Be the Place" by Talking Heads, a sign of the relative diversity to come, which bridges Sade, John Cale, El Perro del Mar, and Peter La Farge. The Talking Heads tune is a toned-down take with acoustic and slide guitars, bass, piano, accordion, and light percussion, representative of an album full of slide guitar-heavy arrangements that fall squarely within folky expectations. Versions most similar to the originals include Ronnie Lane's "Done This One Before," '70s U.K. band Unicorn's "No Way Out of Here" (better known via David Gilmore's cover), Spiritualized's "Straight and Narrow," and fellow South Carolinians the Marshall Tucker Band's beautifully spare "Ab's Song" -- all folk-inspired or twang-leaning to begin with, and covered affectionately with Beam and Bridwell trading lead-vocal duty throughout the record. Most altered are the duo's reworkings of the strings-supported, Brill Building-esque "God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)" by Sweden's El Perro del Mar, which is slowed down here and given an earthy woodwind and guitar delivery; Sade's "Bullet Proof Soul," which still sounds uniquely Sade despite a rootsy rearrangement; and Them Two's 1967 soul plea "Am I a Good Man?," previously covered by Bridwell's Band of Horses and captured with enthusiasm on Sing Into My Mouth by piano, reed instruments, electric guitars, bass, and percussion. Other songs include Bonnie Raitt's "Anyday Woman," John Cale's "You Know Me More Than I Know," and J.J. Cale's "Magnolia." That kind of variety keeps things interesting, though none of the arrangements comes as a real surprise with the exception of the closer, "Coyote, My Little Brother" (later covered by Pete Seeger but recorded by its songwriter Peter La Farge in 1963), a yodeling, Native American-inspired lament that gets full dream pop treatment with Bridwell on lead. Still, the represented songwriters and the sequencing, which nimbly waltzes through 50 years of song selections beginning with a quirky new wave tune and ending with a howling cautionary ballad, are rendered with grace. Those attracted to the collaboration's premise will very likely appreciate its results. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo