Review: Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost

Iron and Wine - Ghost On GhostSuccess can be a hindrance for a creative person. Once you start to become popular it can be tempting to just repeat the same formula over and over. You can write the same songs, release the same album, until people just get sick of you. This, however, doesn’t bring any lasting popularity and the fanbase soon realizes that isn’t what they wanted in the first place. Sam Beam, the creative force behind and only member of Iron & Wine, doesn’t have this problem. Since his beginnings as a man with a guitar recording songs in his basement he has come a long way. Each album has built upon the last, honing his distinct sound until he has become something that stands apart from the crowd. If you told someone then what he would be today, it would have seemed ridiculous.

That’s not to say that Ghost on Ghost is entirely out of left field, building upon the groundwork laid by his previous release, Kiss Each Other Clean. The folk influences that started his career are still there, but along the way he has developed his Pop/Americana sensibilities. His hooks become catchier, but his lyrics are still poetic with vibrant characters and colorful metaphors. It’s hard to listen to any of his songs without imagining a rich story behind it.

“The Desert Babbler,” for instance, tells a story of two people separated by distance. We don’t know the details, but the lines evoke images of the end of the year approaching and missing someone, “Back home the kitchen’s warm with Christmas wine/Every girl has got an axe to grind.” A loved one is far from the warmth of home and we’re left wanting to hear more of the story. This is backed by music that is breezy and carries the listener through the story as Beam reaches into his falsetto range for the hook, which will stay in your head well after the song is done. Meanwhile, “Joy” is a sweet love song to a woman who is too good for the singer. “Born bitter as a lemon but you must understand/That you’ve been bringing me joy,” he sings over a slow, sweet, swaying melody. Declaring his love for this woman and how she has improved his life, he offers,”I’m only fighting ’cause you finally gave me something to lose.”

The music on the album is every bit as colorful as the lyrics as Beam utilizes everything from trumpets and guitars to violins and pianos. “New Mexico’s No Breeze” is swept along by a recurring violin section that punctuates the vocals, becoming the catchiest part of the song. “Low Light Buddy of Mine” features a saxophone that serves as a lead instrument and for a solo in the middle of the song, which is more ominous than the bright songs surrounding it, the way Beam sings “I love you and you love me/And there’s new fruit humming on the old fruit tree” is almost sinister. As though some conflict has arisen that can’t be resolved.

In the end, this album features some of Beam’s best songwriting and he sounds like he’s having a lot of fun. There are bound to be fans who wish he would return to his old style, but there always are. And really, we have so many white guys playing guitar that its better Beam try to evolve than stay with the same old thing. As always, the album is fun, playful, and poetic, as we’ve come to expect from Iron & Wine and, as such, it’s one of the year’s best and shouldn’t be missed by anyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *