Iron and Wine’s lead singer (and on this album only band mamba at all) isn’t particularly old, but other than that he looks just like he sounds: a kindly, long-bearded man who lives in rural Texas with his five daughters. That he’s a hipsterified version of all that shouldn’t offend anyone – these songs are thoroughly good. Good enough to make you nostalgic for the childhood you never had and envious of kids who’ve never known a wind chill of thirty below.
Or at least to live in a world where allergies don’t exist. Man, this is the weakest weakness ever – I catsit for two freaking days and now I spend an entire day sneezing until blood flies out of my ruptured nose-capillaries and I get all puffed up and ashamed to be seen by the other residents of my co-op. Okay, never mind that, but there’s a world where the pines are fragrant, and you brew tea for your wife and read a book, and somewhere there’s a higher power, and somewhere a wagon rides on a swampy trail, with a steep hill in the distance. Somewhere a boy rides the rails, somewhere where winter brings a frost or two, and a scythe looks like crops instead of the Grim Reaper; somewhere where teenaged boys love their mothers, somewhere where cars, if they exist, are objects of romantic escape instead of dreary commutes. Sam Beam sings of all this on a four-track recorder in his bedroom with only his breathy old-man voice, usually finger-picked guitar, some slide guitar, and banjo. No rhythm section, and no rhythm guitar.
Everything here is a winner, particularly the opener “Lion’s Mane”, even though it gets a bit emo. “Love is a tired symphony you hum while you’re awake”? Yes, yes, teach me of your wisdom! I am sneezy and I just want to drink tea all day. But everything chugs along, being beautiful and leafy, the whole way. Sparse but never slow. The only give-away is that the hooks have pop sensibility, which is good for a city rat like me. So you’ll remember the perfect augmentation of slide guitar on “Upward Over the Mountain”, the unresolved picking of “Lion’ Mane”, the uplift in the chorus of “Southern Anthem”, the staccato notes on “The Rooster Moans”. It’s all fairly calculated, but it feels like it’s coming from an honest place, and it’s oh so easy to digest. Like ghee to the part of my heart that needs to visit rural Georgia.
It’s apolitical, agnostic, and equally uninterested in modern complications and bragging about simplicity. Of course, it’s all very low-key and if you aren’t listening you’ll miss the whole vibe, so there’s that to dissuade me on night when I’m going out. But golly I don’t need every music to be gym music. Somewhere the air is thick and bees hum and the grass is tall and the blues are just a passing bird. This I believe; this is one of the things music has taught me.
But wait! There’s more!
If you’re among the very unlucky few who have the free 7″ single that came with this album (and certainly never found in a torrent), you’ll know that there are two “bonus tracks,” or “boner tracks” as you’ll call them if they’re huge mistakes (or “boners”) or if they give you throbbing erections (or “boners”). One is “Her Tea Leaves”, which really goes to show that what I said about rustic people brewing tea is true, and the other is “Carissa’s Weird”, which goes to show that Mr. Beam has a least a passing familiarity with that old school indie-emo band. And don’t say “but Myles, all old school emo is indie”, because what about Evanescence? Anyway, neither of the bonus tracks are anything special. The former goes to the “Lion’s Mane”-style well one time too many and doesn’t back it up with another hook, and the latter hasn’t a hook at all other than being a girl named Carissa who is presumably quite weird, which is nice. You might think it’s a coincidence, but look at the way the song is spelled; it’s a reference.
9 / 10