It is quite apparent that Sam Beam (aka Iron and Wine) has undergone his own evolution throughout his many years of musicality. Although the original foundation remains, development and transformations in sound are an unshakable inevitability. Beginning as a professor of film who casually recorded music in his Florida apartment on an old four-track recorder, he since has broken into the indie-folk mainstream. In his intimate, hushed assessments of life, death and love persist, but are fed through a filter of new jazz and pop influences with a band at his back. Some welcome this change, while others long for what they know and love.
Beam will record an album of covers, Sing into My Mouth, with Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses. Until that happens, Sam gave us something to snack on, and it is satisfying. Iron and Wine’s new release, Archive Series Vol. No. 1, is a glimpse into a familiar past. Released February 24, the album is a collection of 16 homegrown recordings from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, circa The Creek Drank the Cradle.
The reintroduction of Sam Beams’ voice in the opening track “Slow Black River” is chilling. His soft, solemn voice whispers over his slowly strummed acoustic as all the tension in your body melts away. The vast emotional depth that is felt while listening overshadows the four-chord simplicity of the song. While a majority of the songs featured on the album contain only guitar, vocals and the occasional lead, Beam makes use of layering to produce a full and intricate indie folk sound.
With Beam’s addition of supplementary instruments, such as a banjo solo on “Slow Black River” and mandolin riffs on “Wade Across the Water,” he plays each note frugally, with such intention and fidelity. A percussive aspect is added to many of the songs. The slap-like nature of the strumming of “Your Sly Smile” forms a playful rhythm. On “Judgment,” a DIY drum beat created using Beam’s hands pairs well with the low, consistent acoustic chugging to produce a quietly vehement tune.
The minimalistic folk that characterizes Iron and Wine holds much of its merit in the pensive lyrics. Beam’s intimate sentiments of his earlier disposition are reflected in the writing on this album. “Days, days like a summer rain / Blink and they’re gone again / soaking she sits alone, outside and down”, he sings gravely on “Minor Piano Keys.” In “The Wind is Low,” Beam speaks to departed loved ones singing, “You see from the sparrow’s height / Me seeking you every night / You sailing towards the sun.”
Sam Beam dug up gold when amassing this album. Releasing 16 older tracks almost seems like a selfless act, and fans are incredibly appreciative. This tranquil window to the past is needed. With any luck, Beam has a vault full of material like this to subsequently release.