“Ghost on Ghost” proves Iron and Wine get better with age

“Ghost on Ghost” earns five out of five stars for keeping up Sam Beam’s excellent songwriting.



Tyler Davis, Writer

Sam Beam, better known by the moniker Iron and Wine, has been cranking out records for a decade now. These songs initially garnered fan and critical acclaim for his whisper quiet indie-folk lullabies heard on albums such as “The Creek Drank The Cradle” and “Our Endless Numbered Days.” The tracks, mostly bedroom recordings, inspired musicians everywhere to strip down their songwriting to its skeletal form and focus on truly honest, simple and profound songs.

Album continues group’s desire to turn up volume

Since those days, Beam has been been slowly but surely turning up the volume — adding auxiliary percussion and other elements that all culminated into 2011’s “Kiss Each Other Clean.” This album was completely devoid of Beam’s signature acoustic tunes and ushered in synth tracks and drum machines that made it hard to recognize this as the same artist that once sang fragile songs such as “Naked As We Came.” This album was dark, and used unusual melodies that provided an uneasy mood for the album, but the listener got the sense that this was a shared uneasiness with Beam himself.

Iron and Wine returns now with “Ghost On Ghost,” an album that seems to meld these two worlds together. This time vowing for a more lush and orchestral approach, Iron and Wine utilized horns and other instrumentation to build lavish soundscapes, capped off with poignant melodies and lyrics.

While this offering is worlds apart from those early folk days sonically, there’s something to be said for the vulnerability and intimacy found in Beam’s songs. These songs cut to the heart with heartfelt, simple stories, while being great in scale arrangement. For example, the opening track “Caught In The Briars” uses a horn section and countless other instruments to fill every sonic gap, while still telling an intimate story: “Free as a morning bird / Fragile as china / She’s stuck in the weakest heart / Of South Carolina.”

Music remains intelligent and heartwrenching

Despite occasionally utilizing an uncharacteristically upbeat approach, Beam finds himself returning to the heavily trodden roads of the melancholy. Lyrics such as those found in “Winter Prayers”: “Why you'd follow her there? / Milwaukee's a deaf ear for winter prayers / There's no night, there's no day / With only hope in your pocket, and hell to pay” are the majority of which “Ghost on Ghost” consists. This somber element to Beam’s songwriting has been a large factor in his success. His songs tell the story of everyday people facing the universal trials and tribulations all people face — heartbreak, loneliness, worrying. But he does it in a way that reassures the listener that we’re all in this together.

Iron and Wine has been releasing music for 12 years now. And while there have been some bumps along the way, Beam is still writing songs just as heart wrenching and emotional as those he wrote in his bedroom with a lone acoustic guitar. He melds intellectual and heart wrenching lyrics with beautiful arrangements that serve the song rather than convoluting it with a wall of sound. While many of the folk based acts that followed Beam’s original sound are at times indistinguishable from one another, Beam has continued evolving as an artist while not forsaking the heart of what made his songwriting unique. This album is not as chaotic as its predecessor; it’s somewhat quieter and is absent of the distorted synths that dominated “Kiss Each Other Clean,” yet it still seems like a step forward, and shows Beam’s maturity in lyricism and arranging.

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