Iron and Wine - photo by Kim Black

Sam Beam Lays Deep Cuts On Iron and Wine’s ‘Light Verse’

Iron and Wine‘s music has a time-traveling quality. Sam Beam, the singer-songwriter behind quiet folk music, has always made me pause, from the first time I heard his music.

His 2004 album “Our Endless Numbered Days” was on heavy rotation throughout my college years, and his third album, “The Shepard’s Dog,” quickly rose to the top of my playlist throughout 2007 and beyond.

Needless to say, I was camped out early to hear his set at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2009, which still ranks amongst my favorite lineups that the storied music festival has ever put on.

Iron and Wine - Light Verse

That timeless quality has continued on the seventh Iron and Wine album, “Light Verse,” released Friday, April 26, via Sub Pop records.

“I feel blessed and grateful that I and most of my friends and family made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed compared to so many others, but it completely paralyzed the songwriter in me,” Beam said in a release about the album. “While so many artists, fortunately, found inspiration in the chaos, I was the opposite and withered with the constant background noise of uncertainty and fear. The last thing I wanted to write about was COVID, and yet every moment I sat with my pen, it lingered around the edges and wouldn’t leave. I struggled to focus until I gave up, and this lasted for over two years.”

He recorded the album in Los Angeles, California, with engineer and mixer Dave Way at his studio Waystation, as well as with a 24-piece orchestra at Silent Zoo Studio.

He was joined in the studio by Tyler Chester on keyboards, Sebastian Steinberg on bass, David Garza on guitars, drummers Griffin Goldsmith of Dawes, Beth Goodfellow, and Kyle Crane and Paul Cartwright on violin and mandolin.

I hear hints of Andrew Bird’s inspiration on the opening track, “You Never Know,” which sets the tone for the album.

There is more of a collaborative sound on “Anyone’s Game,” which features some lovely violin work by Cartwright and some ambient wind chimes to complete the picture.

The piano-led “All in Good Time” pairs Beam with another prolific singer-songwriter: Fiona Apple. Given my appreciation for Beam’s slow music, this track stands out as one of the many highlights among the 10 songs on “Light Verse.”

“All in good time, our plan went to shit
I told my future by reading your lips
You wore my ring until it didn’t fit
All in good time
All in good time, we suffered enough
We met our muscle when push came to shove
Swept all that broken glass under the rug
All in good time”
-“All in Good Time,” Iron and Wine and Fiona Apple

Beam’s writing is pure poetry as he expresses the heartbreak over a lost friend in a vivid picture that contrasts the importance of daily living in “Cutting It Close.”

“Anyway, life is long
Could be a little longer don’t get me wrong
And its lights won’t leave me alone
Crooked fingers keep pointing me home”
-“Cutting It Close,” Iron and Wine

I wish I could claim that I don’t get surprised anymore, as Beam proclaims in “Taken By Surprise.” He shapes the song around his verses on “Yellow Jacket,” which passes quickly like a dream.

I love the verse where he sings:

“Your aurora borealis turning green
Stopped your bitching motorcycle with a tree
What’s a cold world to butterfly wings
Get to know your yellow jacket by the sting”
-“Yellow Jacket,” Iron and Wine

The upbeat “Sweet Talk” contrasts the cold world Beam sings about on “Yellow Jacket” warming up both the vibe and the sound on the track.

I love the orchestra’s ambiance on “Tears That Don’t Matter.” Backed by the full sound, Beam shows a much larger range by the singer-songwriter. It’s almost Beatles-esque in the way it continues to triumph upon itself and gets lost amongst the choruses of “Lost and Found.”

Beam takes on a more homespun folksy sound on “Bag of Cats,” as he attempts to capture the essence of love that seems to float past him like mandolin notes that hang in the air.

“Let’s say what’s on our minds
Like wе know how we feel
And just what we’re feeling it for
Like life isn’t outside the door
With its bag of cats”
-“Bag of Cats,” Iron and Wine

The final track, “Angels Go Home,” evokes the imagery that first attracted me to Iron and Wine’s music. On it, Beam sings, “All our sons and daughters, throw their stones in holy water, all our angels go home.” Combined with the orchestra supporting him, the track is a testament to the growth that Beam has experienced in the years since I first heard him.

For nearly 43 minutes, Iron and Wine reminds listeners exactly why his poetry is the pinnacle for this prolific singer-songwriter. Combined with a full band and the added extra of orchestration makes “Light Verse” the best Iron and Wine album released to date.

See Sam Beam perform the Music of Crosby, Stills, and Nash on May 13 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

See Iron and Wine with Rosali Aug. 6 at the Wilson Center at CFCC in
Wilmington, North Carolina, Aug.7at the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, North Carolina, Aug. 9 at The Anthem in Washington, DC and Aug. 10 at The Fillmore Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He will perform with Sunny War Aug. 14 at Brooklyn Paramount Theater in New York City.

Get “Light Verse” from Iron and Wine, Bandcamp, Amazon, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Pandora and qobuz.

Favorite Tracks

You Never Know
Anyone’s Game
All in Good Time
Sweet Talk
Tears That Don’t Matter
Bag of Cats