On Iron & Wine’s new EP, a swift follow-up to 2017’s return-to-form, stripped-down gem Beast Epic, we find Sam Beam, as ever, in reflective mood.
Once more evading the sometimes overblown, overly orchestrated character of his work immediately following Kiss Each Other Clean in 2011, Beam delivers resolutely subtle, approachable and occasionally quite moving work here.
If anything Beam has dug deeper and further back on Weed Garden - typified by the lean-in intimacy of ‘Waves of Galveston’ on which the humour of a line like “Though your baby left you for Houston, no-one stays there very long” is contrasted tartly with the lyrics “There’s a graveyard by the pizza parlour / A gate that only closes, snowbirds fly away like secrets no-one really wants to know”. A relatively jaunty chorus surprises and delights, Beam dusting the musical ground with lyrical detail that’s both eloquent and evocative. Yes, we’re back to the sad stuff.
‘Autumn Town Leaves’ overloads the whimsy by questionable virtue of its title alone, Beam’s double vocal track wanders through an Americana small-town in comfort - lines like “Some get rain and some get snow / Some want love and some want gold / I just want to see you in the morning” matching the trad singer/songwriter structure neatly.
While we could all do without that, it is the only really questionable moment across the six songs here and on ‘Milkweed’ Beam offers an enveloping, atmospheric, string-led song of some wonder. “There’s something carved in our hearts for good / Something that’s always fading” he notes, the choral refrain an intuitive, incisive “Always coming back / Coming back for something”. As the record peaks with a sublime rise of voice and violin at the beginning of the song’s third section, you’ll be transported momentarily into Beam’s pastoral, personal world.
Beam’s voice is, as ever, a dog-eared whisper, floating thorough acoustic instrumentation and forests of memory; on ‘Last of Your Rock N’ Roll Heroes’ he shuffles through some observations on duality and loss, “Some day you’re headed back home / Some day you wade into that water ‘cos you’re sinking for stones” - while it may seem trite, it’s certainly relatable, certainly a warm embrace of comfort.
Weed Garden is a worthwhile and often gorgeous mini-album that strikes quietly but memorably in its’ finer moments - particularly at its heart-rending end - Beam noting on closer ‘Talking To Fog’ “We’re both looking for a light in the window of a house / Beneath the winter branches / Underneath our winter clouds / But it’s hard to find” and searching for a place “Where the faces of our friends and family go on and on”. While Iron & Wine may feel a little like an old friend, something to return to after a long dark night of the soul, and while there may not be any surprises here, this is a small record holding some big thoughts - and Beam doesn’t need a big band sound to do them justice.
8Matthew Slaughter's Score