The Shepherd’s Dog – Iron and Wine
"Love was a promise made of smoke in a frozen copse of trees."
So begins Iron & Wine’s new album, The Shepherd’s Dog. For a while, lines like this kept us returning to The Creek Drank the Cradle and The Sea and the Rhythm like a baby to mother’s milk. Sam Beam, the group’s auteur and only member, wrote honest, sincere melodies. His voice was full of waves of emotion, but his was not a group we listened to for musicianship. It was lines like “Love is a tired symphony you hum while you’re awake,” we yearned for after a hard day of life punching us in the neck.
When we found out Sam Beam would be taking to the road with a band, we were bummed. Iron & Wine is a one-man band, we exclaimed. How could he do this to us? The thing that made us feel better would now be filtered by other musicians, putrefying it. We felt betrayed, used, and abused. His collaboration with Calexico made promises towards a future Iron & Wine composed of more than one, but we were still bummed. We reminisced for the lo fi days of a filmmaker harmonizing with himself alone in his room. We missed the closeness. We missed the power. We missed Iron & Wine.
With The Shepherd’s Dog, Iron & Wine has recaptured the intimacy of their first two albums, adding orchestration and musicianship. They are not a band; they are the Sam Beam Orchestra. They sound like a group of friends sitting in an expensive studio, playing and singing their hearts out. Each musician fades into and out of the mix with mind and grace. Each musician adds a layer to the base: Sam Beam’s guitar, vocals, and thoughtful lyrics.
"Peace beneath the city where the women hear the washboard rhythm in their bosom. "
Surrounding lines like this: creative noodling, trippy sound effects, group improvisation, and tribal drumming. There’s piano playing delivered straight from a Southern Baptist church circa 1947. There are songs you can shake your ass to. Once the album gets going, one song runs right into the next, like a Grateful Dead concert. There’s even a song that sounds like the Grateful Dead. There are guitar parts that sound sampled from Led Zeppelin. There are guitar parts that sound pilfered from George Harrison’s basement tapes. All this and the songs, the songs that caused us to fall in love with Iron & Wine in the first place.
Sam Beam’s hipster fans will not be satisfied. Well, you know what, you can take your sneer and your tight jeans and choke on a bag of dicks. Iron & Wine has evolved. This new album sounds like Tom Waits if he lost his love for dissonance and took the gravel out of his throat. This new album sounds like a lost artifact from a different time. This new album sounds like a message from the sea, full of love and wonder. This new album is something none of us could have imagined, but we’ve all been waiting for.