Dreamy, Jazzy Folk
Samuel Beam is nothing if not productive. As the sole member of Iron & Wine, he has released five studio albums, seven EPs and three live albums since he began recording in 2002. Any artist who has something to offer every year either has more creativity than he can contain or poor judgment as to what constitutes “quality.” Beam happily falls into the former category as his latest album, Ghost on Ghost, shows a surprising breadth of interests and influences.
Featured in TV and movies from The O.C. to Twilight to House, Iron & Wine’s sound is most readily known as dreamy mood music, a la Bon Iver. Beam’s high tenor floats airily over an acoustic guitar and pulses slow to relaxed murmur. While this remains true on Ghost on Ghost — enchantingly so with “Grass Widows” and “Winter Prayers” — Beam offers so much more.
Seemingly enamored with the ’70s on tracks “Singers and the Endless Song” and more subtly “The Desert Babbler,” Beam plays with a kind of folk-funk. Elsewhere, it’s the lite rock of “New Mexico’s No Breeze” that evokes the decade.
But these indulgences pale in comparison to jazz influences of “Low Light Buddy of Mine” and more strikingly “Lovers’ Revolution.” Beam engages a standard jazz trio (with horn flourishes) to fierce effect. “Revolution” begins casually, conjuring a smooth cool before building intensely to a drum-and-horn fury worthy of Blue Note in its in prime.
Throwing these influences aside, Beam closes Ghost on Ghost with the country ballad “Baby Center Stage,” complete with the twang of a slide guitar.
Despite the diversity of Ghost on Ghost, the album is not jilting or disruptive. All songs are unified by Beam’s calm hand, steering the tone, and keeping the pulse well in control.