The folk genre of music is quite possibly the most relaxing genre of music ever created. Sure, Bob Dylan had some pretty lively songs, but folk contains simple instrumentation, usually a guitar and simple percussive instrument, along with a singer, weaving a story about life, love, or anything that comes to their mind. It is hard to be considered a bad musician in the folk genre. Iron and Wine, a one man project of Sam Beam, is another great folk musician. Sam Beam uses Iron and Wine as a side project to his university teachings in Florida.
Iron and Wine usually consists of only Sam Beam, either on guitar or banjo and using his delicate voice to sing. Occasionally, in the background, there is a shaker or other simple percussive instrument to keep the feel of the song in tact and a bass to accompany Sam. Sam will often track a few guitar voices to add some variety to his tracks. Sometimes he'll track a guitar and a banjo. His guitar playing is nothing to marvel at, and his voice is aesthetically pleasing but nothing spectacular. His ability to write lyrics with great metaphors is what stands out in his project. With lyrics such as "I want your flowers like a baby wants God's love, or maybe as sure as tomorrow will come," Sam Beam creates stories and messages to convey with his hobby, something I'm sure he never planned to get so much publicity.
The first stand out on the album comes early, the second track of Naked as We Came. This song is only one guitar voice and Sam. The guitar strumming pattern is a pretty simple pattern, with two main variants on the theme. A woman joins him to harmonize with his voice by the second chorus. The song is short, 2:32, a good length for Sam's style of writing. The song doesn't bore and get too long. The song talks about birth and death, how they are the same, we come with nothing and leave with nothing.
However, the next song, Cinders and Smoke, shows the faults of Sam Beam, and his tendency to go on with the same pattern and bore the listener to death. Cinders and Smoke is guitar, a faint shaker, and some sort of conga-like instrument. By the chorus, a bass joins in to reinforce the guitar line. This is a great song for about 3 and a half minutes, but then for 2 minutes, you hear the same guitar line, the same two chords being harmonized by Sam's multi-tracked voice, and the same accent beats by the percussion. An annoying arpeggiated voice adds in after one time through the harmonization, but then that goes on for the rest of the song. Little things add in here and there, such as banjo strums, but it isn't enough to divert your attention from the annoying arpeggiated voice and vocal harmonies.
Two songs later, Teeth in the Grass, the first banjo driven song appears. The banjo adds a whole different "twang" to the feel of the song. The song follows a nice format, a short finishing with the repeated line "There will be teeth in the grass," followed by a short instrumental interlude. The tune and feel of the song is extremely catchy. The song goes through the style 3 times, then finishes. Again, this is a good length for an Iron and Wine song. This song is another song comparing life and death. "Teeth in the grass" is a metaphor for death, tombstones standing out like teeth in the grass.
After a few typical (and good) Iron and Wine songs, we reach Free until They Cut Me Down. It starts with a driving guitar line (think Tush by ZZ Top bassline), and a faint drum kit comes in, snare accenting on the rim. Sam harmonizes his regular voice with a falsetto voice above. Halfway through the song, there is a banjo solo, and then the drums pick up the energy by playing louder and playing more fills. This song is a longer one, but only because the two sections are longer than a normal section on this album. Free until They Reach Me is a standout on the album.
The closer, Passing Afternoon, closes being one of the saddest sounding songs on the album. Sam plays more strummed chords than guitar lines. Piano joins in for the song, accenting the chord changes. The song, 4 minutes long, follows the same chord pattern, but still, the pattern is a long pattern and doesn't get repetitive. Passing Afternoon plays beautifully, the most relaxing song on the album. Just as most of the album, this song comes to the realization that death is inevitable, and there's nothing people can do to stop death. Passing Afternoon goes into how people fear death and fear forgetting and being forgotten.
Sam Beam creates a relaxing, thoughtful, and all in all great album with Endless Numbered Days. Despite some songs only having one guitar line throughout, this album makes for perfect music to sit down, close your eyes, and let your mind wander to wherever it wants to go. This album is for anyone with a heartbeat and a soul.
Naked As We Came
Teeth in the Grass
Free Until They Cut Me Down