BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Having established himself as a master melodist early on his career, Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam revealed a fascination with rhythm on the gamechanging The Shepherd’s Dog, an avenue he continued to exploit on its follow-up Kiss Each Other Clean. For Ghost on Ghost, Beam and his latest set of cohorts keep the tempos percolating, but ease back on the African and worldbeat influences that gave the prior two records such distinctive flavoring.
Instead, Beam seems to have raided his collection of 70s soul music – the horns on “Caught in the Briars” and “Grass Widows,” the lush grooves of “The Desert Babbler” and the subtle acid funk of “Singers and Their Endless Songs” all point to a healthy interest in the Spinners, Philadelphia International and early Earth, Wind & Fire. Even tunes like “New Mexico’s No Breeze,” “Winter Prayers” and “Low Light Buddy of Mine,” which call back to the more measured songwriting of I&W’s early work, get a bounce from Beam’s increased rhythmic sophistication. The shimmering harmonies in which ballad “Joy” soaks adds some R&B vocal group charm as well, and elements of jazz give “Lovers’ Revolution” a back-alley film noir atmosphere. The African influence creeps back in for the gorgeous “Sundown (Back in the Briars),” while the closing “Baby Center Stage” turns back the clock not only to the days of Woman King, but even back to the era of Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Marrying Beam’s continued interest in keeping the beat moving with some of the strongest folk/pop melodies he’s yet composed, Ghost on Ghost evolves Iron & Wine music even further into the realm of the mystic.
DOWNLOAD: “The Desert Babbler,” “Winter Prayers,” “Lovers’ Revolution”