IRON & WINE – Around The Well (2009)

Iron & Wine - Around The Well As far as odds ‘n’ ends collections go, Around The Well is more calculated than most; listening to it from beginning to end, you can hear Sam Beam’s sound evolve from his rustic four-track days, to the more polished, naturalistic sound favored in his later albums. But two very important things haven’t changed in Iron & Wine’s music: Beam’s Southern-gothic lyrical eloquence and his hushed, vapor-thin delivery. No matter what instruments Beam surrounds himself with, he always sounds as if he’s addressing you, the listener, directly. We should all be so lucky.

A lot of the songs on the two discs/three LP’s of Around The Well have made their way into the world by way of singles, 7″‘s or compilation/soundtrack appearances (indeed, one of the band’s most well-known songs, the almost-a-lullaby cover of The Postal Service’s Such Great Heights was previously available in the US only on the Garden State soundtrack), but hearing them collected all in one place is a reminder that Sam Beam does not put out much, if any, bad material, even if it’s left on the proverbial studio floor for another day. As far as original material goes, the album’s first disc plays like an immensely satisfying alternate version of his 2002 debut, The Creek Drank The Cradle (an album I adore, so that’s quite a compliment coming from me). When Sam Beam focuses on the songs of others (as he does with The Postal Service Cover, as well as a cover of The Flaming Lips’ Waitin’ For A Superman), he’s admittedly a bit one-dimensional, but that’s really a blessing; by choosing to cover songs that don’t naturally fit his troubadour palette, he manages to transform these songs into something simpler, but with a fascinating beauty to them nonetheless.

The album’s second disc concludes with what has long been Beam’s finest song: The Trapeze Swinger, a nine-and-a-half minute window into two lives that are so entrenched in quiet sadness and unspoken love, a song so rife with resplendent religious overtones and rich imagery that it’s hard to believe that it was inexplicably written for the soundtrack of the 2004 film In Good Company. Everything that makes Iron & Wine the crown jewel in the modern folk resurgence is exhibited flawlessly here – the detailed but uncluttered arrangements, the thematically-linked verses, and melodies that don’t shoot for your heart as much as they feel to have been borne from it. I could think of no better way to end Around The Well than with this song. And once you reach it, I guarantee you’ll feel the same.

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