[sic] Magazine

Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost

There is a popular trend among some pretty major players – Cat Power , Joan As Police Woman and, most noticeably, Bon Iver – where it would seem that in recent years you can either go smooth or you can go home. And with Ghost On Ghost , Sam Beam too continues what he started on 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog and refined four years later on the easy-listening Kiss Each Other Clean .

Trad-folk purists may bemoan the hermetic influence of recording in a professional studio, yet today’s Iron & Wine set-up retains the power to surprise if not appease these same few. All the same, Beam’s beardy beginnings in South Carolina are but a distant memory as he tackles the dark “Lover’s Revolution”, which simmers around deconstructed jazz before finding its feet, contorting into a deliciously understated groove with midsection passages of free-form skronk.

The hi-fi trickery required for Beam’s multi-tracked choir during barely-there lullaby “Joy” has a certain charm too, while the rather fantastic “Low Light Buddy Of Mine” is buoyed by an entire recording budget’s worth of supporting musicians to whom we can attribute sax, piano, peculiar percussive effects, smoky bass and harpsichord – much more under scrutiny to be sure.

Showing the other side of the argument with its simple pedal steel and emotive piano, the uncluttered closer then becomes a best-of-both-worlds showcase as Beam rounds out the production with great washes of warm strings. Those desperate for echoes of early material should equally find some solace in the lyrical company of “Singers And The Endless Song”, during which Beam whispers as if it were 2002.

What’s certain is that Beam treats the studio like a kid with money to burn does a sweet shop. You can hear it via the country-funk and sax flourishes of the opener. And then again thanks to the lounge-levels of smooth in the in the soft-rocking “New Mexico’s No Breeze” – a silky track perfect (ironically enough given its title) for star-lit night-drives around Beam’s adopted Austin.

Where young money could have ruined a musical magpie like Beam, Ghost On Ghost is a product of gentle evolution and, as such, it comes with experience and patience enough to allow cuts like the skilfully arranged, near-gospel “The Desert Babbler” to shine. While abortive versions of similar experiments probably litter the studio, this striking sad jam will, under candlelight, no doubt be helping seal the deal with sweethearts the length and breadth of the bible belt for months to come. And, if that doesn’t demonstrate the subversive power of what intelligent use of the studio can offer, then Beam might as well give up now.

Advised downloads: “Low Light Buddy Of Mine” and “Lover’s Revolution”.

~Ghost On Ghost is released April 15th 2013 on 4AD .~

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[sic] review: Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean