New (To You) Iron & Wine

iron

Well, everyone knows and most likely loves indie folkster Sam Beam, or as you know him better, Iron & Wine, as he’s been making music under this moniker for over a decade now. For all you fans out there, rejoice, as Beam is releasing Archive Series, which is exactly what it sounds like: old tunes that accompanied his previously released musical material. Up first to be released is Volume No. 1, which is the companion record to his debut album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, and it includes the soft folksy track below. Enjoy and Archive Series Volume No. 1 is out February 24th on Black Cricket Recording Co.

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Typically Sam Beam has been recording at home, with the help of friends and what not.  On Kiss Each Other Clean, his first album after his jump to a major label, you can tell that the big money definitely allows for more production, which at times might be to his detriment on the new record for Iron & Wine.  It’s a fine addition to his growing catalog, but that’s just it, it’s a fine addition, nothing more.

“Walking Far From Home” makes use of some atmospheric swells for the song’s opening, but once removed the piano laden track really shows that our excitement rests on Sam’s remarkable voice, though it has a bit less of that folk feel to it.  But, just as soon as you begin to get in the groove, Kiss Each Other Clean begins to wander in the opposite direction.

Experimentation is fine and good, but sometimes it can feel incredibly forced, and almost unnecessary.  On the record’s second track, “Me and Lazarus,” that’s where I get a little skeptical on Mr. Beam’s intentions.  There’s some saxophone solos, weird blips and inserted noises, and for me, it just doesn’t seem to fit with the Iron & Wine I’ve come to experience.  Now, I’m not banning growth or pushing your artistic tastes, but some formulas are better left unadorned.  “Tree by the River” comes off as the sort of thing someone would hear at a church-camp, using gospel-influenced backing vocals.  Once the song gets kicking, it sounds rather ordinary, almost like a mundane radio single, which is precisely what I never hoped to see from Sam Beam.

Don’t get me wrong here, there are some tracks that I’d probably consider some of my favorite from Iron & Wine.  “Half Moon,” for instance, is probably the first time through Kiss Each Other Clean that you really get the intimate vibe from Sam, which might be a bit late, considering it’s placed in the middle of the record.  That lightly soloing in the background provides just enough extra texture to give the song more depth, and its more of the direction I hoped to see throughout.  Perhaps it is the moment when he seems the most exposed where Beam is able to win over the listener.  “Godless Brother in Love” reminds me of something I would have expected Jeff Buckley to be writing in his bedroom without his lush production.  Emotion pours out of this song, and that’s what you expect from something, or someone, with such great power. When Sam’s voice goes into that high pitch, it just sucks me right in to the song.

Surely people won’t hate this album at all, but it definitely stands out as having some disposable tracks, such as “Big Burned Hand, with all its sax squawking. Kiss Each Other Clean has shining moments, as previously mentioned, but one is left to feel that various experiments might have gone a bit too far in the long run, leaving the record sort of standing there.  For Iron & Wine, it’s the first time I feel as if he’s really middle of the road.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/002-Tree-By-The-River.mp3]

Download: Iron and Wine -Tree By The River (Daytrotter Session) [MP3]

The ACL Bottom 5

Yeah we’re going there ACL. For all the numerous good things that happen during our little festival, there are always a few things people tend to complain about (whiners). We’re keeping this list just a bit short because I think most agree that the positives of the weekend always outweigh the negatives. Things not included on this list are complaints we have every year like: $8 Lonestars, $6 hamburgers that taste like dirt, long bathroom lines, and the like. Those are things we all hate but won’t be changing anytime soon. No, with this list, we hope the good people at C3 hear our cries and makes this festival the one everybody talks about.  So without further ado….. The Austin Town Hall Top 5 worst moments at ACL after the jump.
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ACL Battles: Keys vs. Wine

So here’s what should be a very interesting battle: intense expiremental blues rock of The Black Keys vs. the intimate folk rock of Iron & Wine. Some people may not see the contradiction here with the bands having such starkley different sounds. I agree that the bands sound nothing alike but I’m finding this to be one of the huge conflicts of the festival. Both bands are playing at 7:30 on Saturday.  Which stage will you be at?  Recent singles from both bands are below to make this decision easier…. or harder?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/03-strange-times.mp3]

Download: The Black Keys – Strange Times [MP3]

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/ironandwine-boywithacoin.mp3]

Download: Iron & Wine – Boy With a Coin [MP3]

Calexico – Carried to Dust

Rating: ★★★★½

This is the Calexico I know and love. This is the Calexico I fell in love with when I was just a little lad. No offense to those of you who enjoyed the more rock oriented stylings of Garden Ruin from 2006, but I personally found that album mostly boring and too ordinary. No no, give me that band I used to know from the days of The Black Light or Feast of Wire any day. Much to my delight, newest album Carried to Dust shows a return to that missed form. The guys even hark back to the old Mexican themed album covers after the random black bird on the cover of their last album.

The sound I’m talking about is that dusty, old, spaghetti western, Quentin Tarantino movie soundtrack makin’ sound that’s been the staple of Calexico since their very beginnings. When listening to some of the tracks on this album, specifically tracks “El Gatillo” and “Man Made Lake”, can’t you imagine these as a build up to a bloody shoot out? Or our hero riding off into the Mexican sunset? I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

Another huge highlight on this album, and something I can’t remember Calexico pulling off before, is the sweet dueling vocals of “Inspiración”. The song almost seems like a Spanish version of a song that came out earlier this year called “You Want That Picture” featuring Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Ashley Webber. I loved that song and I can’t get over this one either. Maybe I’m a sucker for good male/female blended harmonies.

Then there’s Sam Bean of Iron & Wine.  Sam shows his face later in the album on standout track “House of Valparaiso”.  The song sounds like it could have easily been something left over from the 2005 Calexico/Iron & Wine EP.   Sam Bean’s rusty and worn voice fits perfectly with the intimate feel of this track.   If I had my way, Iron & Wine would merge with Calexico and take over the world.

I can’t really find any holes in the album, maybe besides random filler song “Sarabande In Pencil Form” and a possible throw away in “Writer’s Minor Holiday.”   Calexico can speed things up with the best mariachi bands and then bring you back down with a heart felt serenade. Here’s to hoping for more of the same from Calexico.

New Music From Calexico

ATH favorite Calexico has a new song available for download off their forthcoming album Carried to Dust due out September 9th. The song is called “two silver trees” and you can hear it below. The album is said to feature Sam Bean of Iron & Wine among others. Read more about Calexico at Casa de Calexico and for those of you that don’t “habla español”, that means “House of Calexico”.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/calexico-two-silver-trees.mp3]

Download: twosilvertrees.mp3