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[Album Review] Iron and Wine-Ghost on Ghost

Iron and Wine

With his last two albums, Kiss Each other Clean and Ghost on Ghost, Chapin, SC native Sam Beam has shed almost all of his singer songwriter stereotype. That’s to say, if you were a fan of The Shepard’s Dog and releases previous to that, and went into a coma in 2007, woke up in 2013 and went to see Iron and Wine live, all you might recognize is the beard and the warmth of Beam’s voice.

Instead the newer material from Iron and Wine harkens back more to the music that influenced Beam growing up. Ghost on Ghost is more Paul Simon than Nick Drake. In 2007 when asked why the more upbeat sound of The Shepard’s Dog Beam replied “I couldn’t get much quieter so it was the only direction to go. And I didn’t fancy the idea of putting the same record out over and over again.”

Ghost on Ghost is another step forward in the Iron and Wine catalog with at times a more funky sound on tracks like “Singers and the Endless Song” and a modern jazz feel on “Grace for Saints and Ramblers” before moving to very Paul Simonesque patter of the prechorus and chorus.

Beam notoriously started out on a 4 track tape recorder, with very lofi demos. But in reality, who didn’t? Most musicians just don’t get overwhelmingly famous and pigeonholed for those early demos like Beam did. The growth of his musical career appears light years away from where he started. Now over ten years later, he’s working with a talented host of musicians including members of Sex Mob, Jazz Passengers, Bob Dylans band, Tin Hat Trio, and jazz drummer Brian Blade.

This group of songs from Beam, with this group of musicians has tapped into a sound that flows through popular American music of the 60’s and 70’s, the music that’s engrained in all 38 year old American songwriters. It’s not easy for songwriters to change their sound dramatically, but it makes it easier when you’re going back to something you know well, with some great musicians at your side.

It’s not only the music that harkens back, but lyrically speaking, Beam references South Carolina several times throughout the album.  A place he hasn’t lived since his late teenage years. Ghost on Ghost flows with comfort, never rushed, never anxious, exploring new areas of jazz and funk at times.

While the second to last song “Lovers Revolution” might be the most experimental of the bunch, the last song “Baby Center Stage” is the most close to the Iron and Wine people are familiar with. The pedal steel guitar in it sounds more Elton John than Waylon Jennings. The melody more James Taylor than Tom Waits. A beautiful way to ease out an album that just took listeners on a ride through jazz in popular music.

Photo Apr 16, 12 29 39 PM

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