Iron and Wine – Home Recordings (2001)

While I always feel a twinge of guilt taking advantage of an artist’s boot legs, I want the sweet, sweet unreleased recordings. So here I am. Just me and these ‘legs. Me and my ‘legs.
Presumably this is a bunch of home recordings from 2001, so someone should really give this album that title. It sounds about right – these sounds like slightly less sprightly songs that would show up on The Creek Drank the Cradle – just soft, Southern-fried young man with an old heart vocals over a single acoustic track and the occasional slide guitar. The guitars are almost all finger-picked and therefore rarely carry the hooks, instead letting gentle vocal hooks do the work, so the worst a song ever gets is forgettable.
It’s a lot of the same kind of thing, especially since these don’t have any significant production differences, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who truly disliked these songs. Basically, if you don’t know the gist of I&W then check out a few other reviews here and come back. None of these songs appear on Sam’s first two albums, though maybe are available elsewhere, so it’s a good listen if you just need more of that Irony, Winey goodness, but it’s certainly not essential. Maybe you’re in the mood for songs with very nice elements and zero propulsion (I know I am sometimes), but this isn’t going to get you out of bed any time, or impress your friends that aren’t into the band.
Don’t get me wrong, Sam Beam generally comes across here as a talented and sleepy poet, but a few of the songs here – usually the ones that don’t reappear elsewhere – often have nothing but niceness going on. These – “Minor Piano Keys,” “Beneath the Balcony,” “The Sea and the Rhythm,” just aren’t all that. Of the rest, a few sound nicer when they get redone, and a few sound nicer without the context of a bazillion songs just like them. But I totally dig the creepy husbandicide of “Dearest Forsaken,” the shuffling moodiness of the otherwise unreleased “Rattling Bone,” the melodious way Beam sings the title of “Jesus the Mexican Boy, and the country lilt of “God Gave A Stone,” even if it sounds like the verse of The Eagles’ “Take It To The Limit,” which is unfortunate. My favourite, the lovely and wistful “Sixteen, Maybe Less,” get redone with the help of Calexico years later and yanks my crank clean off, so the version here comes across as missing its hooks.
So it comes down to this: do you already like Iron and Wine? If not, I’d get one of their actual albums, where the song criteria isn’t “has nobody heard this before.” Then take a nice bubble bath, as your reward for finding a neat-o new band. If you’re a fan it’s obviously rather essential, since it’s a honking’ 11 hard to find recordings, and none of them sound like complete throwaways – just songs demonstrating a precocious talent for making the same kind of songs he would quickly get even better at creating. I’m not sure what kind of a sentence that is, but I’m rolling with it.

7 / 10

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