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IRON & WINE (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Creek Drank the Cradle (Sub Pop) 2002
The Sea & the Rhythm EP (Sub Pop) 2003
Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop) 2004

Iron & Wine is Sam Beam, a college professor from Miami, Florida who plays acoustic guitar and occasional banjo, keeping to a folk tradition while bringing in some country and old-time blues. He whispers his vocals and often sings his own harmony parts. Recorded at home on a four-track, the songs on The Creek Drank the Cradle benefit from the foggy sound, depicting a rural South and such related themes as fallenness, religious faith and the Gothic tradition. The closing "Muddy Hymnal" sums up Beam's concerns and imagery in the lines "Muddy hymnals and some boot marks where you'd been" and "The righteous suffer in a fallen land." It's easy to hear a Faulknerian persuasion here, but Beam comes across as a literary mind that processes its influences and creates something novel. Beam's playing, likewise, has strong roots in folk, but he's added other elements to create original melodies and arrangements, even within the sparse sonic framework.

The Sea & the Rhythm, five tracks left over from the first album, follows its sound and feel with little if any drop in quality. With an increased religious dedication, Beam explores sin and forgiveness on "Jesus the Mexican Boy"; in fact, four of the songs have Christian imagery or allusions, conveying hope ("Beneath the Balcony"), anxiety ("The Night Descending"), grace ("Jesus the Mexican Boy") and love ("Someday the Waves"). The non-religious title track delves into a more physical sensuality, but retains an ethereal lyrical feel.

Beam uses the subtle tension between the physical and the spiritual to fuller and greater effect on Our Endless Numbered Days. He continues to develop his religious themes, in the opening "On Your Wings" (addressed to God) and "Sodom, South Georgia" (which portrays the intersection of blind faith and questioning doubt). He also considers on the paradoxes of freedom in restraint and presence in absence. In these complex studies, Beam's lyrics are abstract but accessible. Recording in Chicago with producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse), Beam allowed the sound to expand modestly from the debut, with outside instrumental and vocal assistance, including his sister Sarah.

[Justin Cober-Lake]