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Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
boundaries of folk
Review by Tony BonyataIn just five years South Carolina-bred singer/songwriter Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) has positioned himself as one of the premier talents of the indie-folk scene with his hauntingly frail sonnets and deep telling tales often draped in the dark moss of Southern Gothic imagery. Comparisons to Nick Drake, Simon & Garfunkel and Elliott Smith effortlessly poured in following his strong 2002 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, and continued through a handful of EPs and his even his second full-length, Our Endless Days Are Numbered, which for the first time strayed from the solo acoustic formula by incorporating a band into the studio - even if these additional musicians still held to Beam's minimalist agenda. But with his latest release Beam's own voice and his songs are now, quite possibly for the first time, best judged on their own and without comparison.
On Iron & Wine's third proper album, entitled The Shepherd's Dog, Beam further expands on his sound and production values with a mesmerizing collection of beautifully crafted compositions that are brought to life with the aid of more experimental and richer arrangements. While there probably won't be any cries of "Judas!" from the crowd (as heard when Dylan switched from his acoustic folk set to a Stratocaster fueled rock show in Manchester, England in '66), there will still, undoubtedly, be Iron & Wine fans that wished Beam would just stick to his stark, one-man band format.
Despite that Beam's slight departure from his own lo-fi roots will be missed by some, The Shepherd's Dog actually finds this talented musician at a creative sea change (not unlike that of Dylan going electric for his classic mid-'60s trilogy Bringing It All Back Home, and Blonde on Blonde).
Songs such as the dreamy "Carousel" float and glow like fireflies on the first warm summer evening, while a static, honky tonk piano tugs and taunts the lightly hallucinogenic folk of the opening track "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car." The poignant "White Tooth Man," likewise, summons up some type of tribal spirit with its primitive percussions and ghostly slide guitar. As this talented musician continues to experiment and grow, he manages to do so without compromising his biggest asset - his craft at creating absolutely gorgeous folk melodies and songs, which is evident here on the sparse, earthy gem "Resurrection Fern" as well as the irresistible pop-folk perfection of "Boy With A Coin," complete with handclaps, a sobbing slide and backwards guitar loop.
While Beam may not exactly be tearing down the fences of folk music, he's certainly created an attractive new gateway in for many with this sumptuous and adventurous album.
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