Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

Louise Evans 06/10/2007

Rating: 4/5

His bard-boned, hushed Americana sounds imbued with rich imagery and a deep intimacy earned Sam Beam's Iron & Wine a legion of fans. In the time since his first two albums the sound has expanded, in part helped by the 2005 collaboration with Calexico, In The Reins. The long awaited third full-length Iron & Wine album, The Shepherd's Dog, pushes Beam to the forefront of contemporary songwriters with a display of understated beauty venturing yet further into new territories without betraying his much loved roots.

The new kaleidoscopic approach to the music is almost immediately obvious. 'Pagan Angel And A Borrowed Car' jumps from a scratchy guitar intro to a Technicolor mix of instruments. A mishmash of sawing strings, clanging percussion, assorted guitars and piano clatter together with Beam's gentle vocals gliding on top. 'House By The Sea' features another consuming confusion of rhythms. From an abstract soundscape comes a hypnotic groove led by the powerful bass which slithers around adding to the Eastern feel of the song. It is then straight into the slower folk-polka combination of 'Innocent Bones'. The swaying bass, drums and piano give way to a tumbling banjo cascade mid way through before picking up again in this perfectly arranged, infinitely relaxing track.

Elsewhere the atmosphere is calmer still. 'Carousel' is a whimsical and woozy tale with distorted vocals and a xylophone fluttering in and out. Conjuring up feelings of dreamy summer days spent around swirling pools of water, the song itself has the sound of filtering up through the water. 'Resurrection Fern' and latest single 'Boy With A Coin' provide a link back to the old Iron & Wine sound. These two songs are soft and reserved with simple and somewhat sparser instrumentation giving them a soothing understated magnetism. Within an array sounds, 'Boy With A Coin' combines tumbling melodies and textured acoustic guitar, driven along by handclaps making it a strong and worthy first single to be taken from the record. Album closer 'Flightless Bird, American Mouth' is yet another wonderful example of Beam's songwriting talent. Beam's voice is brought back to the forefront as the gentle folk melodies swirl around stirring the emotions. This gorgeous reflective ballad is the perfect way to round off an expansive, intelligent album such as this.