The ol’ Salty shepherd’s dog trick. Following in the path of the Woman King EP, this is now the product of a full on band, with no rewritten old songs or signs that for years Iron and Wine was one guy in his bedroom, and then for more years a guy with his sister on backing vocals and few overdubs. This one’s got the full treatment: vocal effects, barroom piano, electric guitars, bongos, all the things to make this a “normal” album by a folk-rock group.
And you know? It’s quite good. Quite good indeed. But its missing a certain…well, the kids and Tom Waits called it dat feel and that feel, respectively. Beam’s still totally able to write touching songs, I do believe, but this endeavour is a bit too impersonal and Game of Thronesish. It feels like everything’s about some peasant in the woods with a dagger, even when it mentions interstates and strip malls. There’s no “Lion’s Mane” or “The Night Descending” to really stick it to your organs. And that’s not the end of the world, but it leaves the album without a lasting impression, which is a first for the ‘Wines.
So bah humbug I say, even if this is still a solid album, particularly its singles, the humid summery “Lovesong of the Buzzard,” catchy but annoying “Boy With a Coin,” and the trying-too-hard-but-mostly-succeeding “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” and my favourite, the non-single “The Devil Never Sleeps,” which actually has some fun and clocks in at a svelte 2:09 long. There’s still nothing bad here, and I don’t think Beam has yet written a bad song, so there’s that, but he picks up a few pointers on this whole “complete band” thing as time goes on.
7 / 10