Album Review: “Ghost on Ghost” by Iron and Wine

     

    Poor Sam Beam. The musician behind Iron and Wine lost even his most poignantly written song about his frustrations with society, “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” to the mainstream clutches of the schmaltzy “Twilight” film franchise. This wider exposure — especially to teenyboppers — could have had a negative bearing on Beam’s newer work.

    However, Beam is blessed with the musical Midas touch: Whatever he writes and performs is simply golden. His latest release “Ghost on Ghost” is no exception. Indeed, “Ghost” does lean more toward cleaner sounds compared to his celebrated raw, moody debut, “The Creek Drank the Cradle.” Still armed with his trusty acoustic guitar, he experiments in “Ghost” by combining slick jazz melodies with his traditional fare of folk-rock.

    The 20-second intro of a cacophony of various instruments already hints that the rest of the album will be a departure from Iron and Wine’s typical work, until Beam begins plucking away at the guitar strings in “Caught in the Briars.” This first track sets the mood for the rest of “Ghost,” which is decidedly dominated by cheerful melodies, from the Beatle-esque riffs of “Grace for Saints and Ramblers” to the aptly named, laid-back lead single “Joy.” The latter hints at Iron and Wine’s maturation, as the musical poet’s opening verse could be likened to his career’s journey: “I’m a bluebird dying but singing the blues/ And it’s a heartfelt silly sort of bumbling tune/ But you’re bringing me joy.”

    This allusion to the blues emphasizes the album’s aura of a jazz club, with brass instruments permeating most of the tracks, including a saxophone solo thrown in the middle of “Low Light Buddy of Mine,” in case we ever doubted what genre Beam was playing. His novel sound gives the soft, quivery voice from his earliest bedroom recordings a newfound confidence and inner strength that is refreshing to hear in “Ghost” and that is perfectly suited to the original sonic paths he is paving.

    Beam is clearly not a dabbler in various musical techniques, as the mixture of folk and jazz works perfectly to encompass his new sleek sounds. With “Ghost on Ghost,” Iron and Wine proves Beam’s versatility yet again, and there’s no amount of mainstream exposure can change that.

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