Iron & Wine – Beast Epic
Sub Pop – 25 August 2017
His first non-collaborative album since 2013’s Ghost On Ghost finds Iron & Wine‘s Sam Beam returning to his roots for his fourth solo release via Seattle’s Sub-Pop label as well as the introspective, confessional style with which he first made his name. Once more recorded live and with the minimal use of overdubs, Beast Epic is an intimate affair, the mood established from the start with the resigned melancholy of Claim Your Ghost where, in a hushed voice, he sings “winter keeps running us down.” Here and often throughout the album, themes of ageing rear their head, as on Thomas County Law with its spare percussive bedrock and subtle strings and its line about how “there’s nowhere safe to bury all the time I’ve killed.”
The gently shuffling old school country of Bitter Truth (think My Elusive Dreams with a dash more dust) keeps the wheels rolling as, in warm tones that belie its reflections on a broken relationship, he sings how “some call it talking blues, some call it bitter truth. Some call it getting even in a song.”
While this musically stripped down, slow paced approach dominates, it’s not wholly exclusive. Call It Dreaming invites cello, keys and percussion to the flesh out the textures as it muses on mortality, breathily sung reverie (“You raised your glass, and the scars fell from my heart”) and Summer Clouds draws on pedal steel, upright bass and violins. Meanwhile, About A Bruise gets skitterish in a Paul Simon style (an influence also to be heard on Song In Stone and the dappled The Truest Stars We Know). Even more so, Last Night opens on a cacophony of sound before edging into a spooked, voodoo jazz junkyard lurch.
It is, though, the quieter more fragile moments that glow the brightest, perhaps no finer than album closer Our Light Miles, a cosmic country blues that both looks back on the roads travelled and forward to the journey ahead. Some may have strayed from his path with the more experimental albums, but this is now definitely time to rejoin the trail.