Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Iron And Wine - The Shepard's Dog

Download: Iron and Wine - "The Devil Never Sleeps"
Download: Iron and Wine - "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car"

Iron And Wine
The Shepard's Dog (Sub Pop, 2007)
Grade: A

As those of you who frequent the site might have noticed, I like things lately. Maybe this is a good fall for music releases and concerts; maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age.

Whatever, the reason, I find myself absolutely afloat with joy over 90% of the albums I've heard lately. And I'm pleased to report that Iron & Wine's latest, The Shepherd's Dog is giving me plenty of reason to sustain my new-found ebullience.

I think Sam Beam (you know…Iron & Wine himself) is always in an awkward position. As the sole permanent member in Iron & Wine, he is always faced with the choice of not fixing what ain't broke and just stagnating, or forging ahead and risking failure. But I think in his continuous reach for new sounds with which to supplement his simple, earnest folk-core, he manages to keep each album fresh and interesting.

After his collaboration with Calexico on 2005's In the Reins, the pressure to evolve had settled. After all, how much more of a reach can you get than Calexico's Latin energy compared to Beam's mellow folk? I guess maybe we should ask Devendra. But the real challenge as Beam was writing The Shepherd's Boy was the pressure to follow up Woman King.

Does he do it? Oh fucking yes he does it.

There's, of course, the signature Iron & Wine sound throughout all of The Shepherd's Boy: the twanging guitars overlaid with Beam's dreamy vocals, all anchored by a Meg White-stable drum beat.

But more so in than any of his other albums, Dog looks outside the constraints of time and place for inspiration. "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog) pulls in a little bit of reggae and calypso, which I'm not normally big on, but the patterns are so well interwoven with Beam's folk guitar that I didn't even notice anything unusual about the beat the first four times I listened to the album. The fact that I've spent the past week spinning some subliminal reggae freaks me out. I think the crown jewel of the whole tangle is "The Devil Never Sleeps," which had me asking if Beam's got a time machine hiding somewhere. I love anything that remotely resembles old-timey music, so I've been pretty much rocking out with my bloomers since the moment I heard that ragtime piano part.

I really admire the way Beam has pushed himself so far and in so many directions since The Creek Drank the Cradle in 2002. If The Shepherd's Dog is any indication of how innovative he'll continue to be, I think we can expect a long and surprising career from Iron & Wine.

The Shepherd's Dog
can currently be streamed here

MySpace page
Stream Iron and Wine's concert at Washington D.C. over at NPR

(April Wright)

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Anonymous Andrew said...

Absolutely fantastic album.

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This group was on David Letterman tonight, and I fell in love right away, all I can say is WOW!!! give me more!!! I am going out and buy the CD tomorrow. It feels good to hear real music, and real singing again, Thanks Iron and Wine!!!

12:28 AM  

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