Samuel Beam is the luxuriantly-bearded, father of five daughters, accomplished painter and former film lecturer behind one of America’s finest bands, Iron and Wine. If you can imagine an academically-minded frontiersman with an appreciation of seventies soft rock you might get an idea of the sound of his stellar fourth album.
If Beam registered his dismay at Bush’s re-election on 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog here he’s evolved from troubled troubadour into a man who’s clearly in love with life. That switch from lo-fi simplicity means a sumptuous, widescreen approach that resurrects the saxophone and xylophone from the musical graveyard and recalls hazy summers of youth.
Opener Walking Far From Home, a kind of a mystical, hallucengic travelogue through a broken landscape full of arresting imagery, sets the tone while the slippery Lazarus and Me lets a drowsy-sounding alto sax wander in from nowhere and never out stay its welcome. Beam’s beguiling talent for musical shape shifting continues on Godless Brother in Love and Big Burned Hand, a souped-up country funk song complete with tooting sax, syncopated vibes, off-the-beat drums and a guitar sound that can only be described as squelchy.
Beam even lays his hand on a flute, that most wizened of prog rock toys, and presses into service on the dawn chorus of Rabbit Will Run. With a beautiful turn of phrase (“as far as I know the night won’t compensate the blind.”), a frothy mix of seventies West coast influences, and melodies that soar like giant redwoods, Beam’s take on cosmic American music is an all-embracing broad church of great songs.