I have been following Iron & Wine ever since I heard Sam Beam’s unique voice on one of The O.C. soundtracks in 2004. Ghost on Ghost is a true testament of an artists’ evolution. Beam started out producing simple but stark acoustic tracks, but over the years has created a diverse sound that has never stuck to one genre.
My attention was caught immediately by the first song, “Caught in the Briars” which begins with scraping and beating percussion and then falls swiftly into a comfortable beat. This sets the precedence of the rest of the album because it moves seamlessly between concepts, in this case reggae and jazz. The next track, “The Desert Babbler” echoes the early sixties with the female backing vocals “aahing” and “oohing” reminiscent of bands such as The Temptations. However, the light feel is blatantly contradicted in the first line of the song when Beam pronounces, “Its New Years Eve/ California’s gonna kill you soon”. The dreamy, sunny feel is met with darker lyrics and the mellow trumpet solo at the end of the track extenuates a disengaging feeling.
The album appears to be Sam Beam’s take on the music of yesteryear and this is truly apparent in the closing song, “Baby Center Stage”. We get a sense of Beam’s South Carolina roots with the bluesy feel but are never far from his unique take on lyrical story telling. Every track tells a story and are helped by incorporating musical elements of the past.
Whether you are already a fan of Iron & Wine or not, this album is definitely worth a listen. I have to admit that, even though I enjoyed them, I found the previous albums lacked variety. This cannot be said for Ghost on Ghost, especially if you compare “Joy” and “Lover’s Revolution”, the latter being my favorite on the album. The beautiful simplicity of “Joy” has the dreamlike quality of “The Desert Babbler”. The backing vocals provide an echo in which you find yourself lost in. Beam’s lyrics are poignant and relatable in this track; ‘I’m only frightened because/ you finally gave me something to lose’, it is impossible to remain isolated to his words.
On the other hand, “Lover’s Revolution” shows another side to Sam Beam, a side that should have been more evident throughout. It is a jazz track with a crescendo of drums and a continuous trumpet. The arrangement is ambitious and full but Beam’s soft voice manages to remain centre stage throughout. This is the song to listen to as it is refreshing and manages to show the true versatility of Iron & Wine.
…Frankie is listening to The Faces – “Ooh La La”