March 17, 2005

Iron & Wine- Woman King

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Somewhere amidst Miami’s bright lights and busy, bustling city streets, Sam Beam sat down and recorded a little EP in the quiet of his home, which resulted in a delicate, rustic folk production that existed in a place worlds apart from the vibrant city. That recording garnered the attention of execs at Sub Pop Records, who signed Beam’s project, Iron and Wine.

Since then, Beam has been hard at work creating a well-developed and accomplished set of work spanning just a few years. In an impressively short period of time, Beam has managed to create a distinctive repertoire, carving sensitive melodies with simple orchestrations and poetic, interpretive prose. Beam is a masterful storyteller, clearly evident through his songs, and in a lulled and hushed voice conveys an authentic sense of Americana in a rich and ethereal texture.

I first heard Iron and Wine on the Garden State soundtrack with his lovely treatment of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” Adding to an already fantastic song, the innovative Beam took the tune and truly made it his own, a formidable feat when covering the work of another. Beam created a down-tempo where there was none, and stripped the song bare to a minimal level with an understated sequence of acoustic strums and soft vocals. I was in awe to find the song sounding completely different at first listen, only to catch familiarities to Ben Gibbard’s original in passing.

The same quiet resonance and affecting serene calm of that song can be found on Beam’s most recent release, Woman King. The album is a short treat at just six songs long and new listeners can consider it a more formal introduction to Beam’s work aside from the small glimpse of his talent offered by Zach Braff’s excellent soundtrack selections.

Beam’s albums appear to be a family affair, as his sister Sarah enlists herself in the ranks for sing-a-longs. The two are a perfect pair and follow each other’s lead to create a full and replete coalescence. Aside from the crisp and tidy vocals, the album is a pleasant blend of subtle sounds and complementary orchestrations with a delicate piano accompaniment alongside intricate acoustic chords.

Beam shines most on the slower-paced ballads, particularly “Jezebel” and “My Lady’s House.” On the latter song, Beam expresses the sweet contentment of endearment and love found in unfamiliar comfort. “No hands are as gentle/ or firm as they’d like to be/ thank god you see me the way you do/ strange as you are to me,” intones the prolific songwriter.

Unfortunately, the other songs are a little derivative and lack the luster that these two numbers possess. Perhaps Beam decided to take a departure from these songs’ formulas, but the bluegrass, banjo-slapping rhythm is a bit lost on me. Aside from the missteps, Woman King is a beautifully arranged volume to add to this budding artist’s growing portfolio of refined and simplistic mastery in terms of music.

Archived article by Sophia Asare
Sun Staff Writer