Iron & Wine
Although I've failed to review any of his releases thusfar on my site, I've been a solid follower of Sam Beam since I first heard his album The Creek Drank The Cradle a couple years back. Since that time, I've snagged up all his subsequent releases and havbe been surprised by his rather prolific output and also the high quality of most of his work. In the course of about two years, he's now released two full length albums, 2 longer EPs and one short EP. Granted, he's not putting out 70-minute albums packed to the brim, but he's still on a roll.
Despite the level of quality in his work, a lingering feeling has started creeping into my mind when listening to his work that started about the time I heard last years full length Our Endless Numbered Days. While there was nothing in particular wrong with the album itself, it felt like Beam was slowly starting to recycle some of the same chord progressions and melodies, and while his warm voice is unique enough to be one of those voices that it's hard to get sick of (like Nick Drake and few others), I just didn't find myself as drawn to the release as I did his first couple efforts.
Now, with the Woman King EP, Beam has incorporated not only some new instrumentation, but some slightly better production values as well (courtesy of Brian Deck), and while there are certainly things to behold on the release, I again have that lingering feeling that I've heard much of it before. The scrappy album-titled "Woman King" that opens the release is certainly enough of a startle (for those who have heard his previous work) as some gritty electric guitar mingles with drum-stick backporch percussion and female vocal harmonies, and the song is indeed one of the better tracks on the release. "Jezebel" again centers around a strong woman theme lyrically (as does all the songs on the release), and while the reverbed piano melodies are nice, it just doesn't stick out very much.
I have to admit that the tracks on the short release with the most energy are the ones that catch my ear, even if they move into a territory that is inhabited by many other artists. "Freedom Hangs Like Heaven" strums along with an almost honky tonk feel, making use of intertwined banjo and piano while the closer of "Evening On The Ground (Lilith's Song)" closes the EP with a tension-filled strummer that mixes strings, crunchy electric guitars, and plenty of clanging percussion along with some of Beams least subtle lyrical turns ever. It's just short of a full-on rhythm section, and it's one of his boldest moves yet that helps make me wonder what he'll do on his next full length release. Hopefully he keeps taking small steps away from what he's done so well on his previous two releases, because although they've both been solid, it's nice to hear him breaking free of the contraints that he's laid out for himself thusfar.