Sam Beam is, of course, better known to most for his alter-ago as Iron & Wine, as which he’s built up a sizeable cult following for his brand of hushed lo fi folk, although recent releases have taken a fuller, poppier and, at times, jazzier sound. Hoop, on the other hand, is probably (undeservedly) less well-known.
A former Mormon whose CV includes working on an Arizona wilderness rehabilitation programme for troubled kids and being nanny for Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, she was born in California but is currently based in Manchester. She’s released four albums, albeit one of these, was an acoustic version of her debut, Kismet, her music described by Waits as like going swimming in a lake at night.
Sharing the songwriting duties between them, they come together here in an inspired pairing for an album of love song duets, produced by Tucker Martine and with a line up that includes Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and bassist Sebastian Steinberg from Soul Coughing.
Opening with the 58 seconds of the cello-backed Welcome To Feeling, Hoop’s vocals prominent with Beam on harmonies, it’s a relaxed acoustic affair steeped in classic folk stylings. The vocal approach is simple enough, generally moving back and forth in the verses and sharing harmonies for the chorus, as delightfully evidenced on the slow waltzing, brushed snare, violin-accompanied One Way To Pray and the sprightly fingerpicked Every Songbird Says.
Hoop is the dominant voice on the ambling rhythm The Lamb You Lost and the strings-caressed, piano-backed Soft Place To Land with Beam taking the lead for Sailor To Siren, while, at other times, as with the strings-backed cascading 60s pop melody of Kiss Me Quick, the classic West Coast folk-pop Valley Clouds or the dreamy, strummed Brights Lights And Goodbyes they meld together in perfect unison.
Overall, it keeps very much to a sleepy, rustic musical path, though never to the extent of sounding samey, but it does step off from time to time. There’s a slight misfire with the quirky Chalk It Up To Chi, where the almost tribal bass burbling arrangement feels as forced as lines like “I’m a sorry black boot, you’re a shiny marble”, but it works much better with the syncopated percussive rhythm underpinning Midas Tongue, bringing a heady narcotic air in contrast to the still warm campfire breeze elsewhere abetted by cello, washing soft jazzy undercurrents through the lolloping Know The Wild That Wants You.
Some have argued that Beam has lost his way somewhat of late, but his collaboration with Hoop is easily his best work in a while, and, on top of being a fine album, keeping his company will hopefully create a wider awareness of her charms too.
Love Letter for Fire is out now on Sub Pop
Order via: Amazon
UK & European Tour
SUN, Aug 28 – The Hub (UK), Edinburgh , United Kingdom (Edinburgh International Festival!)
MON, Aug 29 – Marine Court Hotel, Bangor, Ireland
TUE, Aug 30 – Olympia Theatre, Dublin, Ireland
WED, Aug 31 – The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), Manchester
THU, Sep 1 – Union Chapel, London
SAT, Sep 3 – End of the Road Festival, Wiltshire
WED, Sep 7 – Passionskirche, Berlin, Germany
THU, Sep 8 – KultureKirche, Koln, Germany
FRI, Sep 9 – Botanique, Brussels, Belgium
SAT, Sep 10 – Oosterpoort, Groningen, Netherlands (Take Root Festival!)
SUN, Sep 11 – De Duif, Amsterdam, Netherlands