Changing Times for Iron & Wine

May 18, 2013 · Print This Article

It’s often hard for well-established musicians to find balance later in their careers. Sam Beam has left his minimalist roots far behind with Ghost on Ghost, his fifth full-length album as Iron & Wine, pulling from many often unexpected influences.

Songs like “The Desert Babbler” exhibit a melodic quality reminiscent of many long-gone musical styles, creating a pseudo 70’s funk-inspired sound that’s almost a little difficult to identify. It’s Iron & Wine, there’s no doubt about that, but the variety of the album poses a problem.

Artists at the point Iron & Wine reach are often accused of ‘betraying’ fans by skipping gears and moving on to a sound drastically different from what they are used to. It’s difficult to argue that Beam’s musical direction hasn’t taken a very drastic leap. The junkyard-rock of The Shepherd’s Dog was a wonderful break from his usual style, and Kiss Each Other Clean expanded the sound further.


At this point, the question is whether Iron & Wine should have stopped the expansion there.

Instead of the simple sounds of acoustic guitar from The Creek Drank the Cradle, Iron & Wine fills the space of Ghost on Ghost with a jazzy collision of horns, violin, keyboard, heavy drum use, and an occasional Doors-esque organ sound.  One of the only songs on the album that is easily recognizable as Iron & Wine, “Winter Prayers,” still features very little of the original guitar sound at all, relying on Sam’s voice almost entirely.

The album lacks a clear destination, like the radio-weary lite-rock it harkens back to, but there exists a saving grace in the end. “Lover’s Revolution,” the second-to-last track, begins slowly, plodding along, but eventually picks up tempo and flies headlong into a burst of jazz horn and drums. Unfortunately, this fades into “Baby Center Stage,” a slow dance ballad of piano and slide guitar that quickly becomes simple background music to the listener.

Ghost on Ghost is not a bad album, that’s not the point. It’s simply confusing and hard to get a real grasp of. There’s so much happening in and between songs that it’s easy to lose interest. It’s an easy listen, but not one that’s easy to pay attention to. The sound quality is great and the songs are all beautiful, but they unfortunately lack a necessary hook. –Jordan B. Frye, Contributing Editor


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