The Creek Drank the Cradle by Iron And Wine (Review)

Sam Beam is a poet, plain and simple.
The Creek Drank the Cradle - Iron Wine

It seems like just about every half-cocked, melancholic folk singer going these days is actively inviting comparison to Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. Problem with looking for those types of comparisons is that you’ve got to live up to the stellar work of Drake and Smith, and pretty much nobody does. Instead they just come off sounding like a really low-grade knock off. Enter Iron and Wine.

Sam Beam may not have gone looking for the comparisons but they’ve come flocking to him purely because us lazy writers are always on the lookout for simple ways to heap praise upon stellar new finds. Iron and Wine’s warm tones and subtle vocals don’t approach the acknowledged masters of this particular sub-genre as a student aping his idol, but rather as a peer sitting comfortably with old friends.

Iron and Wine is purely a one man show, that being Florida’s Sam Beam who played everything you hear on the record and recorded it himself at home. That in and of itself is pretty impressive. But if his bio’s to be believed, these tracks are lifted from his first batch of recordings and that’s just staggering. There is seriously not a single thing I would change about anything on this record.

Beam is a man who has obviously spent time listening to his share of classic ’70s folk albums and he’s got the vibe down flat. The guitar has a rich, warm tone and Beam has a timeless rhythmic picking style. He leaves the arrangements simple, but they’re certainly far from boring as he layers on multiple guitar tracks, bass, drums, and the occasional banjo to counterpoint his melodies. He’s also quite fond of my absolute favorite production trick ever — singing his own close harmonies. There’s probably not a single track on here that doesn’t feature multiple vocal tracks, with the voices stacked up to give the ethereal ghostlike quality that also marks so much of Elliot Smith’s better work.

All the playing and production skills in the world wouldn’t matter a bit if the songs weren’t there, and apparently Beam’s got no worries there. According to Sub Pop’s website, Beam turned in enough material to easily fill two records. The selection process wasn’t based on which songs were best, because they were all good, but rather on which ones worked best together. Sam Beam is a poet, plain and simple. There’s not a lyric on this record that doesn’t stand on its own as a haunting piece of writing. Beam works in dreamscapes, fractured memories, and fragments of history and ghosts of southern relijun. It’s a potent brew, and perfectly matched to the subtleties of his music.

Word is they’ve got a new A&R guy over at Sub Pop. Hopefully between this record, Ugly Cassanova, Hot Hot Heat, and new signings The Baptist Generals (I just about died when I saw their concert listings on the Sub Pop site), we’ll see some new life breathed into the old beast.

Written by Chris Brown.