Iron & Wine "Beast Epic"

When Sam Beam released his first collections of songs as Iron & Wine they were like naked infants. New to the world, they were sparse, instinctual endeavors, and yet they radiated primal truths. Beam has matured as an artist and his offspring have grown more complex. His education has taken him through myriad genres and styles, and his production has become multifaceted. For Beast Epic he reverts to his earlier patterns, recording live to tape, keeping overdubs to a minimum, and paring back production.  His arrangements bare the bones of songs in order to expose their souls.

Beam is a master at creating songs that balance intensity with subtlety.  Beast Epic draws on his experiences in the studio and in his personal life. While arrangements are leaner than on his last two albums, they aren’t entirely without flourishes.  Although the focus falls on acoustic instruments – guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, autoharp, cello, and a variety of keyboards – they are often presented in uncharacteristic ways. Guitar strings occasionally sound slack, losing tuning with elasticity. Marimba plays around plucked strings, including those of the piano. Beam never loses sight of the heart of each song, which is his voice and lyrics. He sings with a voice that never gains volume. Its power comes from his passion and phrasing.

Beam has written with a romantic pen and is fond of allegory. Beast Epic continues to celebrate metaphor, but its romance is a darker shade that finds its hue in endings. Beam pulls out the beauty of lost love or perhaps love that is transforming from romantic to platonic. Like his songs about burgeoning or lasting relationships, these songs are both honest and kind. Nostalgia blooms from the good memories we hold of things past. It’s good to be reminded that pain creates its own kind of beauty.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)

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