First Listen: Iron And Wine, 'Ghost On Ghost'

by Stephen Thompson

Iron and Wine's new album, Ghost on Ghost, comes out April 16.
Iron and Wine's new album, Ghost on Ghost, comes out April 16. (Courtesy of the artist)
  1. Listen Feature audio

    Apr 7, 2013

Audio for this feature is no longer available.

No one's ever been voted Least Likely To Lead An 11-Piece Band, but if such an honor had been bestowed 12 years ago, Sam Beam would've been a frontrunner. A shy, prolifically bearded academic, Beam started out making whisper-quiet bedroom recordings — just his voice and an acoustic guitar, issuing bleakly poignant songs about troubled lives and worried minds. But ever since his 2001 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, Beam has piled on accouterments gradually, as he's slowly and subtly built his sound into something lavish and even orchestral in scope.

Recording and touring as Iron and Wine, Beam now presides over arrangements springy and three-dimensional enough to accommodate a horn section — and yet he still finds a way to wrap his agreeably soft voice around thematically weighty material. For all its rich, Technicolor brightness, Iron and Wine's new Ghost on Ghost retains the capacity to burrow knowingly into bleak Wisconsin winters ("Winter Prayers") with an acute understanding of loneliness and alienation. Even amid cheery oohs and ahhs, "The Desert Babbler" finds Beam warning wearily, "California's gonna kill you soon."

Still, Ghost on Ghost isn't all wry fatalism coated in studio gloss, as Beam also finds space for bits of warmly dreamy vulnerability. In the appropriately titled "Joy," for example, he opens with an openhearted confession — "Deep inside the heart of this troubled man / there's an itty-bitty boy tugging hard at your hand" — before giving thanks to a devoted lover who keeps him grounded.

A dozen years into a career with few missteps, Beam still lets his songs and sound morph and evolve; more than ever, he's a songwriter versatile enough to pack huge ideas into simple arrangements and vice versa. Even if his next album finds him at the head of a 100-piece symphony, he'll still build its arrangements around accessible emotions, with a deceptively soft touch and turns of phrase that cut to the marrow.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Related Stories

  • Iron & Wine live at SXSW Enjoy Iron & Wine's performance from the Public Radio Rocks day party.
  • Iron and Wine Performs in the UBS Forum Sam Beam, who performs under the name Iron and Wine, brought his signature acoustic sound (and beard) to Minnesota Public Radio's UBS Forum, playing a couple of songs off his newest record "Kiss Each Other Clean".
  • Album Review: Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean If Brian Wilson wanted the Beach Boys' "Smile" to be a "teenage symphony to God," it may be that Sam Beam has managed to write such a symphony for grown-ups on the latest offering from Iron and Wine, "Kiss Each Other Clean."
  • Iron and Wine perform live in The Current studio It's been nearly 10 years since Sam Beam donned the Iron and Wine moniker and released his debut "The Creek Drank The Cradle" in 2002. Since then, he's expanded the arrangements from his voice and an acoustic guitar to including a variety of other instruments, and he continues the trend on his newest album "Kiss Each Other Clean."
  • Iron & Wine performs in The Current studios Sam Beam is Iron & Wine. That's the moniker for the singer/songwriter behind the delicate guitar picking and soft-spoken voice that has covered The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" and has been featured on a psychedelic M&Ms commercial. Iron & Wine has also released three full-length albums and a whole slew of EPs.

comments powered by Disqus