Iron and Wine – Woman King

Oh, I know, I know, in between Woman King and the previous EP, The Sea & The Rhythm there was another EP, the iTunes Exclusive. Well, guess what:

No? Okay, I’ll just tell you. All four of those songs are on a later rarities. So eff that literal collection of noises.

This here’s a REAL EP. I’m not entirely sure what I meant when I wrote that last night after an hour or so or sitting slumped on my kitchen floor, but maybe this: often EPs are filled with sub-par filler tracks to pass the time until the next album. Here, not only are four of the six songs easily album quality, but there’s an important stylistic shift that makes things mega worthwhile. Namely, this here’s a BAND, not just Sam and the Beams. Oh, I’m sure he wrote all the songs, and his kindly, bearded, whispery falsetto is still all over all the songs, but previously where the music was an afterthought to get the listener from one Southern image to the next, here the band actually is responsible for hooks. And, don’t you just know it, they pull it off. And not only is it pulled off, but it is pulled off with aplomb. Imagine that! Stop imagining. Imagine that! Stop imagining.
So what’s the new I&dub band singing about? Powerful women, mostly. The title track’s what it says on the tin, but there’s also songs about the taken-back Jezebel, and the still-out Lilith, and less memorable tunes about his lady’s house and his grey lady. While the song matter sounds rather biblical and pastoral, and it is, Beam’s enough of a songwriter that for the first time his band sounds a little badass and a little swaggering.
Man, it hurts to type with a small cut on your finger from yesterday when I was cutting an onion to make Memphis style barbecue sauce. But there’s no songs about that, for some reason.
But there’s all sorts of interesting musical grooves on here, and played with enough assurance that it sounds like the first two albums and connected EPs were just special acoustic releases from a normally electric band. The slide guitar riff on the title track and the acoustic riff on the excellent “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven” will stick in your noggin long time. Early EP track “Jezebel” gets jazzed up and much improved with backup vocals and a jangling synth thing. “Gray Stables” may be only a groove, but it’s a cool, slithery groove. Ditto for “Evening on the Ground (Lilith’s Song),” though there’s also an uncharacteristic line about how “we were born to fuck each other one way or the other.” Man, when you don’t swear often it really has more impact when fucking you do!
So count this as a significant addition to the I&W discography. Guy that lives with his wife and daughters and sings about the South and powerful women and brewing tea is one thing. Guy that does it with a full band and pulls it off means reconsidering this whole “kindly” thing. Muy bueno. “My Lady’s House” is still completely forgettable, though.

8 / 10