Thursday, October 11, 2007

CD Review - Iron + Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

The Shepherd's Dog
(Sub Pop)

When I reviewed WOMAN KING, the 2005 EP by Iron and; Wine, I said the presence of whooa, drums and, what's this? electric guitar, was just Sam Beam et al letting his beard down and getting something out of his system. Sure he'd go back to his gentle 1 man and his guitar work that characterised The Creek Drank The Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days.

Well turns out I was wrong. I picked up a copy of Iron & Wine's latest album, and first full length for a good while, The Shepherd's Dog the other day. And I have to say, at first anyway, I was disappointed.

I bought the vinyl 10" single first and it was a warning. Wah-wah pedals, drums, sitars, crazy stuff. This is man I love for doing so much with four notes and his beautiful voice. Like seeing a child grow up and become a punk rocker, I have to let go and admit it, Iron & Wine is a band now.

But at least he isn't a punk rocker, yet. It's still Americana, if with a smattering of dub, blues and west African styles. The opening track, "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" is full of big bass, technicolour but then reminds me of what he used to be with some slide guitar and banjo.

I couldn't listen to it. My little band has grown up and changed. But I had to. So i put it on again, and again, and I realised that beneath the bravado and independence, is, to borrow from Pitchfork "the core of Iron & Wine remains Beam's voice, guitar, and songwriting, which is still more suggestive than concrete, and is built mostly around strophic verse/verse/verse forms rather than leaning on choruses". And this is important, Beam's songs only work because of his beautiful melodies, and thankfully they remain. The colours are different but he still knows how to write a strong song. He also knows how to climax a song, as he does with the wonderful steel guitar at the end of "Love Song of the Buzzard"

You have to listen to this record lots to appreciate it. I would have loved another Creek Drank The Cradle, but every parent would love their baby back. Perhaps it's best to let them grow, mature and create something wonderful. I'll catch up

Read the Pitchfork interview with Sam Beam from Iron & Wine.

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