Too much Iron, not enough Wine

Hasmik Djoulakian

(May 2, 2013) — Iron and Wine front man Sam Beam’s evolution from master of the quivering voice and whispery melody, his penchants from The Creek Drank the Cradle all the way through to Kiss Each Other Clean, to a saxophone-playing blast from the ‘70s is complete with his fifth album Ghost on Ghost . Beam should be commended for ambitiously going out on a limb, but sadly, he has largely left behind the endearing and unguarded vocals for which his earlier fans adored him. That, combined with uncomfortably discordant instrumental portions, such as the first 20 seconds of the album, very nearly sour the album altogether. But Beam pulls through regardless, if only just. His voice may not be as easily confused with a live recording as it was before, but he is Sam Beam, after all, and Sam Beam’s vocals cannot register badly, ever; it’s just not in him. His voice carries the album, and in it rings a new kind of confidence. Although that confidence in place of the genuineness of before was not a fair trade, it is refreshing all the same to hear his voice ring and peak with fervor in “Lovers’ Revolution” and “Baby Center Stage.” It may just be that the drums and background vocals in the latter make the song sound flat and, were they taken away, Beam’s voice would ring nearly as true as ever. About half the tracks on Ghost on Ghost are as light, breezy and nostalgic as they are forgettable. That is a shame given that Beam has managed to channel both an airy quality and unforgettable musicality into his songs many, many times before. In the other half or so tracks on the new album — one of which is definitely the closing track “Baby Center Stage” — Beam somehow is able to capture and harness the point where jazz meets folk and brass instruments supplement, not stifle, his genius vocals. Musicians need to experiment and evolve in order to stay relevant, and the consistently pop-jazz quality of Ghost on Ghost is sure to garner enough approval to propel Iron and Wine into its next stage of metamorphosis.