Iron and Wine – 4AD Sessions

Five songs of just acoustic guitar and Sam Beam’s singing. Three of the songs are from Kiss and Each Other Clean, one is from the debut album The Creek Drank the Cradle, and one, “Biting Your Tail,” is from the Walking Far From Home single. At least I think so. Three of the songs are, in order “Tree By the River,” “Biting Your Tail,” and “Upward Over the Mountain.” How do I know this? Because Sam Beam tells me before playing each one. But other two….? Sure, they sound a lot like “Big Burned Hand” and “Half Moon,” but how can I be sure? They could be totally different songs that are just extremely similar to those two. But we have to proceed as if they are those two, otherwise we’ll be stuck in this paragraph FOREVVVVER.
Ah, the acoustic guitar. My favourite instrument. Not to cast dispersions on your own favourite noise-makers, but can any other instrument convey such range of emotion and human experience? The happiness of G, the sadness of E minor, the tension of F, the horror-movie cheese of D minor. Soothing make out soundtracks, angry rebellion, Steve Earle the addicted and Steve Earle the recovering. Singers can be pretentious, of course, but the acoustic guitar on its own rarely so. The acoustic guitar sounds like the present – some instruments sound old fashioned and some sound awkwardly like the future, but the acoustic guitar has an understandable timbre that sounds like the truth. It can make white noise sound good, just like it can with spaced-out single notes. The guitar is the only instrument that can reliably carry a song on its own, can sound like winter or summer, like falling in love and losing it. It sounds great when you play it normally, it whispers when you play it softly, and it still sounds great when you play its strings off. Unless you play it like a dumbass.
The big problem here is that the new songs just aren’t that special, even if they sound fantastic in this simple form, and Sam Beam’s still a lovely singer without doing his whispery thing like he did back in the old folky days of early I&W. “Tree By the River” might sound great to someone not versed in the I&W catalogue, but to me the tale of long-remembered unrequited love is a letdown topically. First of all, tales of long-remembered requited love are far more poignant. Second of all, this is an easy attempt to induce nostalgia for the Beamer. Third of all, I don’t appreciate the lyrical twist of the last line. Fourth of all, there are half a dozen I&W songs that do this same thing only better, not to mention Tom Waits’ “Martha.” Not that it’s a bad song or anything, just an easy one. “Big Burned Hand” seems very proud of how it says “fuck” once, sounds quite a bit like “Free Until They Cut Me Down,” and lacks hooks without its blaring horns. And “Half Moon” is just pleasant as a deep cut.
The other two songs though – whee! “Biting Your Tail” was wrecked by production, because its sort of heartfelt, simplistic benediction works FAR better on just guitar. “May your hands be strong and willing / May you know when to speak and to listen / May you find every friend that you’re missing / There’s no cheque in the mail,” for instance. “Someday may we all be happy / Someday all make a face worth slapping / Someday we may be shocked to be laughing / At the way we behave,” for another example. And “Upward Over the Mountain” – golly, remember “Upward Over the Mountain!?” Now that’s a gorgeous song, and it sounds nice here reduced to three minutes. The way Beam has no gap between the words “rise” and “hope” in the chorus? Brilliant! Dat heartbreaking and ambiguous tale of a dog giving birth! It’s nostalgic, hopeful, and terribly sad all at once.
Hey, here’s a joke:

Just kidding, a unicyclist with a big floppy hat is not funny.

7 / 10

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