The Shepherd's Dog

Intimate, literate and wonderfully executed, Iron & Wine seem to have made one of the albums of the year. Don’t let it pass you by.

Gosh. Where has this man been hiding all my life? I feel kinda cheated to have only now discovered Sam Beam’s musical alter ego, but there are no excuses really. The guy’s been putting out records since 2002, one of his gentle gems was included on the Garden State OST, and this — his third full-length album — debuted at number 24 in the Billboard chart, selling 32,000 copies in its first week. Low profile? Not exactly…

Anyway, no matter. We’ve got hold of you now Mr Beam, and we’re not letting go, no matter how hard you try to shake us.

And what a record to sink our teeth into. Soft, subtle indie folk sounds; tight, hazy harmonies; delicate but driving plucked acoustic guitars; gentle railroad beats; and a country twang (due in part perhaps to the involvement of long-time collaborators Calexico). There are touches of Simon & Garfunkel and Nick Drake every which way you turn, and something of the modern philosophising highwayman in the delivery.

Lyrically, Beam’s a master. Frequently concerned with the religious and cultural undercurrents of his South Carolina upbringing, he’s also not averse to politics — though he has insisted in recent interviews that The Shepherd’s Dog is not a political record.

But whatever the lyrical motivation, there's an intricate mountain of gossamer metaphor to lose yourself in here. Check: “And the cops couldn’t care/When that crackhead built a boat/And said, ‘Please, before I go/May our only honored bone/Be the kinship of the kids and the riot squad’” (‘Carousel’), or “Even the last of the blue-eyed babies know/That the burning man is the color of the end of day/And how every tongue that gets bit always has another word to say,” (‘Innocent Bones’).

No matter what he’s singing, Beam never raises his voice above a whisper, reinforcing his words with towering vocal harmonies. Intimate, literate and wonderfully executed, Iron & Wine seem to have made one of the albums of the year. Don’t let it pass you by.

 

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