The thing about Samuel Beam’s Iron and Wine outfit is how emotionally touching and gripping his music is. Lovingly enveloped within his quivering voice, finger-picking acoustic guitar playing and a few friends that lend helping hands here and there, the name Iron and Wine has come to signify one thing: gorgeous music.
And although his band’s sound has significantly changed over the past two years, this collection of rarities showcases Beam relishing in the sounds he has mastered since his band’s inception. Without knowing much else, taken at face value, one would easily confuse this as his next terrific album. Tying all of the loose strings together, Around the Well is a stunning gem. Not only is every possible base covered but the sheer quality of Beam’s music is downright staggering.
The first disc is a collection of Beam’s material from his first two albums as Iron and Wine. Bedroom recordings with the background fuzz left in and entirely delicate with nothing to hide, they shine in every possible way. Whether it’s the country-styled banjo and Beam’s knowledgeable stories such as on “Friends they are Jewels,” the sunny and optimistic release of “Morning,” or the southern offering of “Call Your Boys,” every single song receives the same attention and detail; if you haven’t heard an Iron and Wine album before, this is a nice way to initiate that love.
Really, it feels good to have so much music coming from one great artist and it makes up for the brief snippet he delivered on Dark Was the Night. When you get a piano-jiving tune like “Kingdom of the Animals” and the storied, epic, significant, “The Trapeze Swinger,” it makes everything else go away-even just for those brief moments.
The second disc sounds like music taken from The Shepherd’s Dog sessions. “No Moon” is a bluesy roar that wiggles and shakes with an irreplaceable charm. Gone is the lo-fi purpose and the door is open for Beam’s tremendous voice to come out. And the shuffling vibe of “Belated Promise Ring,” features Beam’s unforgettable storytelling. It goes without saying that he has firmly placed himself near the front of the list in terms of songwriting and the music all over Around the Well is more proof of just that.
The covers are a special treat too. His take on the Flaming Lips’ “Waitin’ for a Superman” is the typical, quiet, affair. He’s taken a bombastic, booming, towering masterpiece of a song and turned it into this folksy, reserved but equally affecting cover-you couldn’t really ask for much more. Furthermore, the wonderful take on the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” is a winner in every way, from the gentle plucking of the guitar, the interplaying vocals and the way the music tenderly rests inside your heart is just wonderful.
It’s not a proper album-that should be coming next year-but that’s not a problem at all. Unlike other odds and sods collections, Around the Well sounds and feels like an accomplished release. But then again, when you look at the artist who’s behind it, you should know that you will be getting a glowing, in-depth, wondrous effort each and every time.
“The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron and Wine