Sam Beam compiled an EP creatively titled Woman King
in February of 2005; accordingly, it was a pure work of art and beauty. The EP really took a turn both lyrically and
musically. Our Endless Numbered Days
and The Creek Drank the Cradle
both produced a more lo-fi and cheaper sound, while his lyrics danced more with animals and lost love. Both full length albums also produced a more hushed quietude in his vocals as well as less musical instruments involved. Woman King was released and it almost completely changed his sound, well…kind of. He still holds those whispering vocals in some of the tracks and the banjo twanging and finger picking on his guitar, yet more instruments seem to be thrown into the mix and by “seem” I mean “are”. Beam’s gone from his old-school producing and music making to renowned musical instruments in the folk genre, such as the piano, banjo, electric guitar, light percussion and even tambourines. To be quite honest, it doesn’t hurt his sound; if anything it broadens his horizons on a greater scale, opening up a more fuller quality to his music, whether it appeals to you or not that he has somewhat changed
his sound, I don’t think he’ll lose touch of his original musical roots. If you listened to him before and came to the conclusion that you think he needs more drums and instruments to his music, I think this EP would turn you on more to Iron & Wine than you ever thought possible.
The album opens with Woman King
, a song that kind of sets the example for the rest of the album. It portrays women in a broader scope, holding more respect than his previous works. I’m not saying he disrespected or ignored women in his previous albums, but he kind of clarified them more in this EP, especially when he looks into the future, so to speak, singing:
hundred years, hundred more
someday we may see a
woman king, wristwatch time
slowing as she goes to sleep
The following track: Jezebel
doesn’t really shift grounds, lyrically. He continues his focus around the Bible’s most infamous Phoenician princess, daughter of Ethbaal, and soon the wife of Ahab, the king of Israel. She is referred to as “corrupt woman”, due to her devilish acts in the old times, known to have slain the prophets of the Lord and hid others in caves without food or drink. His lyrics and piano melodies do sound quite nice in this track, but it’s not necessarily a high point on the EP. Grey Stables
is a track that really lets Beam show off his musical abilities, singing along with his sister Sarah Beam, creating beautiful harmonies.
Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
brings back the bluegrass/southern twang he held in his previous albums, but his vocals are rather varied. He also adds percussion which is a change to his sound, but it really makes the EP something new and interesting. The shifting tones and swings in his vocals are something new to me; apart from the hushed quieted rhythms he generally sings, he opens up his voice more in this track, sliding tones back and forth and not nearly as whispered as before. By the time you’ve reached My Lady’s House
, you’re more than likely aware of the significant changes in sound he’s producing, mixing old-time Iron & Wine with this newly renovated alteration in production and instruments. This song brings you back to his more recognized tones, jumbled with the rumbling piano and shaking tambourine. The closing track Evening On the Ground (Lilith’s Song)
is a tension-holding song that’s probably the most least subtle piece Beam has ever put out lyrically. The mixing of strings and the rare electric guitar help push the song along and keep listeners on toes, as well as the soft melodies between verses of the piano. It’s hard to say if the ending track is something to look forward to or not, or if it was merely experimental, considering the more throaty vocals and driven music.
Although the EP may not blow the minds of fellow Iron & Wine listeners, it will hold them in content while waiting for the next full length. This is a wonderful evolutionary synapse between albums and it’s a nice six-track EP to listen to if you’re looking for a change of sound in Iron & Wine’s music. It’s hard to say where he’ll be at for his next full length album music-wise, but it’s definitely something that will keep me intrigued until release and upon hearing.
Better production (if that’s what you’re looking for).
A great anticipator for another full release.
Experimental musical instruments that do justice.
If you’re content with his older sound and production, this may not be the EP for you.
The new instruments may turn off some listeners of his original folk/bluegrass music.
Lyrics are more barefaced, rather than his usual subtle self.
Iron & Wine - Woman King EP