October 18, 2007

Record Review: Iron and Wine

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Compare The Shepherd’s Dog to Iron and Wine’s first two albums, and you may wonder if you’re listening to the same artist. Pick up 2002’s The Creek and The Cradle, and every track is stripped bare, with only the strumming of acoustic guitar backing Sam Beam’s breathy vocals.
Then play “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car,” the first track off The Shepherd’s Dog. Waves of violin, xylophone and ragtime piano undulate with multilayered harmonies. In “White Tooth Man,” the sitar lends exotic eastern vibes to a song about tragedy in rural America. In “Wolves,” dub-reggae is juxtaposed with country-twanged acoustic and glimmering keyboard. Strange? Yes. But somehow, it works.
The Shepherd’s Dog may have learned some new tricks. Beam’s ability to weave disparate instruments and styles seamlessly together is stunning. Yet the backbone of Beam’s music remains — whispering harmonies, mythical lyrics and earnest, folksy emotionality. And ultimately, this is what will keep fans wanting more.