Review Summary: Proof that Sam Beam is a genius and not just some guy who made a great album in his bedroom.
The last time we heard from Iron and Wine
in the LP format was in 2004, with the second album for Sam Beam and friends, Our Endless Numbered Days
. That's not to say that they haven't been busy in those three years. In fact, Beam and co have released no less than three EPs since 2004, most notably Woman King
and the Calexico
collaboration, In the Reins
. With each release, listeners have seen Beam's recordings gradually evolve from the humble bedroom recordings of The Creek Drank the Cradle
. The Shepherd's Dog
continues Iron and Wine's foray into full-band mode in every imaginable way; by adopting a diverse and eclectic approach to songwriting, incorporating a wide variety of instruments, adding smooth transitions between songs, giving the record a gorgeous, lush production effort and so on. However, the core of Iron and Wine is clearly still Sam Beam; his songwriting, hushed vocals and simple guitar work.
With the band's new approach to instrumentation also comes a new approach to songwriting, with Beam writing in less traditional pop song structures and moving towards more through-composed ideas. Sonically, The Shepherd's Dog
is a much more percussive album, based far more on rhythm than either of the band's previous LPs. The bouncy opener "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" focuses on an upbeat rhythm as its center while its followers "White Tooth Man" and "Lovesong of the Buzzard" are thick, almost tribal pieces. Certainly though, tracks such as the gorgeous "Carousel" (complete with rotary-style vocal effects) deviate from this template. Closer "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" makes use of waltz rhythms while "House By the Sea" takes the band into dreamlike territory with delayed loops and atmospheric keyboard sounds. Beam's lyrics come forward with their usual amount of rich imagery and are perfectly suited to the music he is creating.
The lyrics booklet that accompanies The Shepherd's Dog
is designed in such a way that perfectly reflects the music contained on the disc. When held from afar, the lyrics simply look like a large (poster sized) jumbled mess; but closer examination is soon rewarding. In much the same way, the music contained on The Shepherd's Dog
is layered and seemingly messy at first, especially compared to the immediacy of earlier work. For anyone willing to give it a fair shot, however, it's hard to imagine the album being a disappointment. Once and for all, The Shepherd's Dog
proves that Beam is worthy of the attention that he is given and actually a brilliant musical mind rather than some guy who got lucky enough to make a great album in his bedroom.
Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car
Boy With a Coin