Review Summary: The song is a man and a woman and everything else.
On last year’s The Shepherd’s Dog
, Sam Beam took Iron & Wine in a rather different direction. The change in setting seemed to change the man within it, and less like a folk icon and more like an eclectic, hometown troubadour, The Shepherd’s Dog
seemed like the ultimate antidote to maturation for Beam. So take Lie Down in the Light
’s equal: more in passion and prose, Will Oldham (under his Bonnie “Prince” Billy moniker) takes his well-worn style and thrusts a new folk-pop attitude into it. What comes out is winning and warm, a simple concoction lovingly turned by Oldham’s more streamlined and impressionable vocal work. It might not be consistently spellbinding, less likely to take chances Oldham seems otherwise ready to make, but that’s beside the point. Lie Down in the Light
is a charming effort, one that deserves to be heard.
This is ultimately true because of the delicacy in which Oldham handles Lie Down in the Light
, creating moments like the ones where he counts down into the album’s country-crooning opener, “Easy Does It,” fit with kazoos and violins with an endearing sort of self-awareness. Oldham speaks volumes about his work when the dual vocals climax into the song’s final phrase: “And I wander and lay in whatever old bed / with good, earthly music singing into my head.” Other moments he creates seem to hint at a grander scale, but Oldham isn’t beyond creating what is ultimately just a lighthearted affair: “(Keep Eye On) Other’s Gain”’s guitar chords seem to come in fits and spurts, and, matched with Oldham’s smoky performance, seem ready to lift off into a thrilling, western stand-off. On “What’s Missing Is,” Oldham slows down the momentum almost to a stopping point to allow the song to march dutifully on through broken chords, only to follow it up with the fiddling electric guitars and full vibrato of “Where’s the Puzzle?”
All these moments create a surprising effort from a man known for his songwriting, if not his eclecticism. Because of a rather odd tracklisting, Lie Down in the Light
’s best tracks are spread evenly across the album, meaning that laps in quality are quickly shaken off in favor of something rather special. “You Want That Picture” is a beautiful, acoustic-meets-electric duet with Ashley Webber, both bringing a certain sort of frankness to their delivery of passages: “And I stood very still in the night / and I looked at the sky / and knew someday I’d die / and then everything would be all right.” Such a strong effort is followed by the rather middling “Missing One,” noticeable only for a strong emphasis on piano in its choruses, but Oldham keeps the track mercifully short and follows it closely with “What’s Missing Is.” The best example of Oldham’s ability at excellent turnabouts is the switch from the clunky strumming of “Willow Trees Bend” to the album’s closing statement, the duet with Shannon Stephens, “I’ll Be Glad,” which subtly evokes a medieval folk styling. The best track though goes to "You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)," a song steeped in a rather sinister, disquieting underlining, featuring one of the album's strongest moments where the violins suddenly pick up and Oldham laments: "It's been years since I found it / I still go where it pounded."
Lie Down In The Light
is still slightly marred by this uneven pace. The emotional climax in “So Everyone” seems to be leading up to a cathartic follow-up, but Oldham instead veers towards the slow acoustic stroll of “For Every Field There’s a Mole,” though this seems to say more of the man making the record rather than the record itself. Oldham himself seems wise, weary, and above all, patient, and that’s how the album works; it’s a jaunting flow that seems to play out in real-time. If he can’t quite match the lofty heights already set this year (and last) by Bon Iver’s fantastic For Emma, Forever Ago
, it’s because they function as two distinctly different mediums: one was crafted in urgency; the other, a leisurely consumable product. That doesn’t make Lie Down in the Light
any less endearing, and that’s part of why it works: without a jagged edge, it’s easy to curl up with Lie Down in the Light
and enjoy a simple anthem to summer.