Before Iron and Wine achieved his international fan base he was simply Sam Beam, writing and recording songs at home on a four-track recorder. Some of these songs went on to form his first album The Creek Drank The Cradle. While the occasional track would show up as B-sides on 7” singles or on obscure EPs, the majority of these recordings have remained unreleased. The Archive Series Volume No. 1, released on Beam’s own Black Cricket Recording Co., compiles these recordings.
Compared to his recent albums, these recordings are far more stripped back, featuring only vocals and acoustic guitar. Though not every song matches the quality of his other albums, this album contains several gems that could sit comfortably alongside his more conventional releases.
The album’s opener, Slow Black River, features Beam’s rolling acoustic guitar accompanied by a tale of a romantic walk along a river, free from the binds of time.
Freckled Girl is a tender song of longing. A simply strummed guitar is accompanied by a gently sung tale of the longing of lovers living far apart from each other and dreaming of a time when they can live together.
Judgement features a more driving guitar line accompanied by a song chronicling a young man’s insecurities, with the welcome addition of a gentle banjo solo towards the end.
The undoubted highlight of the album though is Halfway to Richmond. The song opens with a mournful guitar line accompanied by a dejected song of a dying love affair. The lines “I’ll make supper for myself/ I’ll watch the clock up on the shelf/ I’ll clean this broken house you denied,” are a poignant picture of a lover failing to come to terms with the end of a relationship. While, “What’s this ugly thing that I see?/ when was this cold and uncomely/ animosity begotten?/ fucking with the lights left on/ till every ounce of strength was gone/ is this something you forgotten?” is a heart rending account of the confused bewilderment brought about by the ending of romance. What makes this song particularly powerful though is the quiet repetition of “doo doo do” throughout the song. The delivery of this line manages all by itself to encapsulate a man trying to put a brave face on a broken heart.
While not all the songs on the album hit the heights of his mainstream releases, it will be a welcome addition to the collections of dedicated fans of Iron and Wine. Those fans will also be please to hear that there are already plans to release further volumes of unreleased recordings.
Review by: Alfred Archer
Archive Series Volume No. 1 is released 24 February 2015
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