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30 septembre 2007

Folk music for new generation

CD Review: Iron & Wine, "The Shepard Dog"

Iron and Wine
released their first full-length solo record since '05s "Woman King," an intimate dive into folk music. I&W's latest, which was released Tuesday, Sept. 24 is "The Shepherd's Dog," and delivers a similar, more upbeat version of their last album.

Sam Beam is as vocally accurate as ever, providing soft, lullaby-like tones that are sweet-sounding to any functional ear. He leads the listener gently by the hand through his bittersweet world, a simple life with small-town letdowns and local successes.

In "House by the Sea," Beam and crew show off their accomplished bluegrass skills in a non-traditional style. With a combination of guitar noodling, heavy rhythm and even some synth effects, I&W creates an enjoyable melody that appeals to a wide audience.

"Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)" seems like a throwback to Peter Gabriel. The song begins with aspects that smack of '80s songwriting, from the reverb on Beam's vocals to the repeating guitar lick. From there, the tune proves to be a toe-tapper with rapid, flowing song-writing Beam is known for.

"Boy with a Coin," a song from their single released this summer, has a solid beat that one can easily bob an enchanted head to. It has a lively melody with a steady clapping beat surrounded by I&W's newfound studio effects.

I&W attempts to push a '50s rock song in "The Devil Never Sleeps." They blend a jazz piano with some simple electric guitar work and a touch of acoustic slide guitar. Unfortunately, as tight as the song is musically, Beam's voice is just a touch too soft for the tune and doesn't push through in the rock and roll manner that's expected.

There are also several songs that are more reminiscent of the I&W from their earlier works - many will recall their remake of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" - and several tracks give the listener the relaxed, lonely sounding Beam with a story to tell that most are used to. I&W have the piano take a more active role in "The Shepherd's Dog." Other new sounds in I&W's arsenal include the accordion alongside the use of synthetic sounds and effects.

As usual, Beam gives story-telling a fresh start. He spins tales that often revolve around rural life-styles. His lyrics evoke such vivid images, like the "smoke in your nose." Beam seems to be on the edge of one's senses. I&W even manages to throw in the occasional biblical reference without coming across as pushy - or even really that Christian.

This is an I&W that old fans may not be entirely comfortable with. They might think it too experimental for the folk band. They would be wrong. This album is a step forward for I&W and is at least worth the 30-second preview on iTunes.

By: Brett Sowerby

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