Iron and Wine (featuring Calexico) – In the Reins

More EPing around, and it’s almost like fencing when I say it that way, but no fear, this is the next logical step in Sam Beam’s becoming a real band leader. Where the previous EP saw him leading a restrained band in performing up his songs, here he’s got an entire band guest starring, rap-like, on the entire EP and making it a collaborative effort complete with band members who sound like they have minds of their own instead of being session folk. And it really is a band that does bandy things – electric guitars! Loud drums! Horn section! An opera singer on one track! Lots of nifty experimentation going on.
And golly, these are all old I&W songs, with pure solo home recordings floating around, but 1) it goes to show what a steady hand and a willingness to expand one’s sound can do to benefit a song, and B) This EP goes to show just how great Iron and Wine’s songs really are. Seven songs written for just an acoustic guitar (and one of them is the plodding, annoying-ass “Dead Man’s Will”), and here they’re given rein to wander off into the distant snow, and they flourish.
I only know a few Calexico songs, but here they’ve got a tight country-rock thing going on that totally meshes with I&W’s Southern sincerity, and they know their way around musical hooks. Seriously, these hooks are everywhere, like gravity. Some glorious indie-country stuff going on here.
And the songs. The songs and. I’m not sure what “He Lays in the Reins” is on about, but it’s a solid opener, and then “Prison on Route 41” kills, and then “A History of Lovers” kills, and “Red Dust” is a solid half-jam, and “Sixteen, Maybe Less” almost brings me to tears with its pathetic (and it calls itself on it) nostalgia for teenage love, and heck, even “Dead Man’s Will” becomes above average when it has backup vocals. And I realize I haven’t been too descriptive, but you’ve gotta listen to this EP! Music is the best we can all agree, yes? Like Frank Zappa said but without the sobriety and moustache. Because it makes us feel. And this takes me both to lives I’ve never lived and to previous times in my own life and to potential futures. All while chugging along pleasing me like I was born into genres starting with “country” and a dash. Excellent, excellent stuff.

9 / 10

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