February 25, 2005

Iron & Wine "Woman King"

Sam Beam sings with a voice so warm, so fulfilling and so intoxicating, you might wonder if he's any kin to the whiskey baron. His rye-soaked songs--a mixture of folk, rock and country--are quite impressive, and they defy easy comparison, and it's not all him, either; he's always worked well with others, and he's got the ability to make his solo performances sound like he's backed by a full band. He's also quite a prolific writer, having released four excellent records over the past two and a half years, and his latest EP, Woman King is no exception.

Following the same dusty path as his last album, Our Endless Numbered Days, Beam and company have crafted six gentle yet emotionally charged songs that sound both hauntingly familiar and otherworldly. His voice is a fine, wispy thing; at times, such as on the title track and "Gray Stables," his singing is almost lost to the excellent accompaniment. It's not folk and it's not rock and it's certainly not folk-rock, either; his backing band has a sharp sense of atmospherics and delicate intricacies. When his band tread the depths of more traditional sounds, such as on the jaunty, upbeat "Freedom Hangs Like Heaven" and "Evening On The Ground (Lillith's Song)," Iron & Wine sound like something quite extraordinary. You'd be tempted to say that it sounds like Neil Young, but not quite. Adding his wife Sarah as a backing vocalist adds a dimension that's quite beautiful and angelic.

In a way, Iron & Wine's music is much like the thimbles on the cover: beautiful, tiny works of art that are delicate and can easily break, but at the same time they're tough and protective and cannot be pierced. Sam Beam is an artist who's clearly coming into his own. If you're looking for an introduction to the man's work, Woman King is as excellent a place to start as any. Heck, if it's any consolation, this was my first experience with the man's work as well, and after hearing this little EP, I definitely wanted to hear more--and, if the all-too-brief Woman King is any indication as to where he's going next, then the future is definitely looking good for Iron & Wine.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.ironandwine.com
Label Website: http://www.subpop.com

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