Iron & Wine - Ghost On Ghost
It seems impossible to pigeonhole Iron & Wine (aka Samuel Beam). With 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean he encroached into pop but managed to keep this balanced with his otherwise easy folk style. It gave him a higher profile (and a number 2 album in the US), but Beam’s mellow vocals had been slowly infiltrating our collective conscious through adverts and movie soundtracks since first coming on the scene. Not your usual musical idol, he's certainly moved on from his debut 2002 release when he was in a home studio with no record label or contract, playing the instruments and producing it all by himself. With each release Beam has expanded his sound with the addition of new instruments and influences which has culminates in his latest release Ghost On Ghost. On this album, his fifth, he’s invited along an eclectic mix of pop, folk, jazz and classical musicians, as well as one of Bob Dylan’s band. Beam opens the album with the acoustic echo of drumsticks on what sounds like cups and plates before ‘Caught In The Briars’ properly kicks in with guitar and organ, and introducing his own wickedly rich voice with its calming, best friend tone, then segueing into a little free form jazz. Second track ‘The Desert Babbler’ adds the soft percussion and prominent bass that go on to lend the whole album its perfectly breezy 1970’s sound. It’s roughly at this point that this moves from merely being a good listen to substantially more than that. A great bass line powers ‘Low Light Buddy Of Mine’ with its sax solo, “I love you and you love me” refrain; the darker, looser, late night feel is then offset by the cheerful, sunny morning sounds of ‘Grace For Saints And Ramblers’ which picks up the pace. With a mix of deep bass line, parping horn section and funk rhythm drumming ‘Singers And The Endless Song’ takes on board all the influences heard so far and combines them into an irresistibly more-ish tune, just one of the many high points in the 45 minute running time. The more relaxed tracks like ‘Joy’ (“a heartfelt silly sorta bumbling tune”) and ‘Grass Windows’, with their laid back easy listening jazz feel, should be terrible but they’re not and help to mix the mood even further. ‘Sundown (Back In The Briars)’, with its three part harmonies, and the thoughtful ‘Winters Prayers’ continue this feelgood journey and the summer trip-esque ‘New Mexico’s No Breeze’ is a wonderfully smooth ride. Adding to the patchwork sound of the album is ‘Lovers’ Revolution’, a full on jazz track that morphs into rock and back into jazz with a touch of freestyling from the brass section and double bass. Completing the full house of musical styles, Beam closes the album with the countrified ‘Baby Center Stage’ complete with slide guitar solo and Hammond organ. You’ll be hard pushed for find another collection of songs as musically diverse as this; yet the album hangs together brilliantly with Beam’s butter smooth voice the common thread throughout. It takes some skill to produce something as coherent as Ghost On Ghost and shows that a huge variety of influences can be crafted together to create something both new and brilliant.