The Best Albums of 2011: #13

Iron & Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean

I get the sense listening to Sam Beam that these days he’s really got it figured out. His first two albums under the “Iron & Wine” moniker, while good, weren’t as fully realized as the music that he’s recorded both previously on 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, or here on Kiss Each Other Clean. No doubt, Beam has recorded some of his most diverse, and accessible music to date. Taken together, the two flow effortlessly from one album to the next.  Or put another way, if The Shepherd’s Dog was Beam dipping his toes in the water, Kiss Each Other Clean is a belly splash in the pool.

At first blush, Kiss Each Other Clean often sounds like something you might have heard on AM radio in the 70s, recalling some of Fleetwood Mac’s best work. But if you listen closely, the album isn’t just a rehash of old themes. It’s actually an interesting blend of folk, pop, funk, and jazz layered under a wide palette of unique sounds- squawks, buzzing noises, fuzz, horns…well you name it. It may take you a while to appreciate the genius here (it took me several listens), but it does not disappoint.

Select Cuts: Me and Lazarus, Tree by the River, Godless Brother in Love, Big Burned Hand

The Greatest Albums of the 2000s (#10)

Sheperd's-dog#10.  Iron & Wine- The Shepherd’s Dog (2007): Sam Beam, aka “Iron & Wine” spent most of his career as a disciple of folk legends like Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel, recording soulful, yet intimate lo-fi acoustic music.  On his second full-length album, Our Endless Numbered Days, Beam took a small step away from his previous recording approach.  Instead of just guitar, vocals and a four track, he brought in a few musicians; most notably his sister Sara.  He eschewed his home studio for a professional one, then brought in producer Brian Deck of Modest Mouse and Gomez fame.  Well, if Numbered Days was a small step, The Shepherd’s Dog is a giant leap.   Instead of Beam’s signature somber voice, there’s actual effects layered over a rich mixture of traditional and not so traditional sounds.  Don’t get me wrong, its not that he steers clear off-course here; rather Shepherd’s Dog is a welcome evolution.  Beam’s brand of traditional southern folk still comes through.   It’s just that there’s far more richness and color here. On “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)” Beam channels his inner Gary Wright with some old-fashioned blue-eyed 70’s soul.   Arguably the strongest track on the album is the brilliant romp “Boy with a Coin.” Against a backdrop of hand clips and guitars, the song speaks of youth and the innocence that comes with it.  Even when he comes home to his signature sound on “Resurrection Fern,” he does so “Nashville-style” with a lap-steel guitar.  Beyond the strength of the writing and production, the album is varied.  Its fun, emotional, yet engaging all at the same time.  If you ever thought Iron & Wine was a bit too low-key for your taste I challenge you to give it another look, you won’t be disappointed.

Faves: Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car, Lovesong of the Buzzard, Boy with a Coin, Innocent Bones, Flightless Bird American Mouth