In less than five years, Iron and Wine rose from a batch of unadulterated home recordings to become one of the indie scene's most influential and successful artists. For those late to the party, Iron and Wine has but one member, Sam Beam who was born and raised in South Carolina. Beam has lived all over the Swampland Footprint with time spent in Richmond, Tallahassee, Miami, and now Austin. Each place invades and informs his work.
Around The Well might be superficially seen as a closet-clearing effort for Beam as he readies Iron and Wine's next full album, but with each ensuing listen, it becomes something much more. With only three full albums to its credit, Iron and Wine has taken sizable creative leaps between each release. Whereas the debut album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, was culled by Sub Pop from Beam's home recordings, Iron and Wine's sound was exquisitely produced, drawing from a full musical palette by the time of its third album (The Shepherd's Dog).
Around The Well begins with tracks left off of Creek and ends with fully produced masterpieces in keeping with The Shepherd's Dog demonstrating the evolution of this important and vibrant artist. The album also features select cover songs of Oklahoma's the Flaming Lips (Waitin' For a Superman), New Order (Love Vigilantes), the Postal Service (Such Great Heights), and Stereolab (Peng! 33). Such Great Heights often gets credit as the song that helped break the band due to its inclusion on the Garden State soundtrack.
Despite the presence of these cover songs, Beam's own writing doesn't take second place. From the lead off track Dearest Foresaken, Iron and Wine delivers its distinctive sound featuring hushed, double-tracked vocals backed by the dual acoustic guitar sounds of slide work spidering around driving rhythm guitar. With a nod towards early CSN, Iron and Wine's distills a potent combination of slithery tension, often subtly hiding deep emotion beneath a calm musical surface.
With a mastery of miminalism similar to the earliest acoustic blues artists, Beam fills Disc 1 of Around the Well with songs that explore broad feelings of sadness, love, anger, and hope differentiated only by the slightest and seemingly effortless changes in tempo and attack. By Disc 2, Beam has added modern production and multitudes of sidemen without losing any of Disc 1's intimacy. From the delicate second opener (Communion Cups and Someone's Coat) to the mean blues of No Moon and Arms of a Thief, there is nary a letdown over the course of this 23 song masterpiece.
Around The Well also makes a strong case for Beam as a prolific songwriter. Besides the three studio albums, Iron and Wine has also released several EPs. Knowing that tracks as strong as the ones on Around The Well have been collecting dust for years makes one wonder about what is to come.
Few artists debut as strongly as Iron and Wine. Even fewer artists display this level of geometric growth when starting from such a strong beginning point. For those new to Iron and Wine, there might not be a better beginning. For those here from the start, it reveals treasures finally released from their vaults. Around The Well shows the incredible journey of this artist from humble beginnings to a precipice of future musical explorations lying ahead.
- Jim Markel