Sam Beam, better known by his performace moniker Iron and Wine, is without a doubt one of the most influential modern American Folk artists to ever strum an acoustic guitar. His string of highly influential releases, starting in 2002 with his debut LP The Creek Drank The Cradle, led to an army of imitators and was the stepping stone for dozens of modern Folk artists to enter the semi-mainstream. His legendary "whisper Folk" sound perfectly evoked the feeling of listening to a light wind rustle a Georgian oaks branches as dogs barked in the distance.
Yet since Beam released his most successful album, the unforgettable Our Endless Numbered Days, in 2004, he has done everything in his power to completely abbandon the sound he pioneered and the sound that made him such a legend. When Beam dropped the truly incredible The Sheppards Dog on his unsuspecting fanbase, it was met with as vicious a reprisal as any album has ever received from a belegured fanbase. The Sheppards Dog was so massively different from anything Beam had done before: no longer was Beam strumming a guitar or banjo as he whispered poetry over the fleeting notes. Now, with a full band of musician, Beam went into a smokey, psychedelic Country Rock direction, and many of his long time fans were disgusted. Which of course was insane, as The Sheppards Dog was an adventerous masterpiece the likes of which has not been seen since(opinions are grand, no?).
Now four years later, Beam is back with Kiss Each Other Clean, and the neon-colored and LSD-influcence cover art was to many a grim foreshadowing of what was to come for Beam, who seemed to delight in angering his original fanbase. But the glory of Kiss Each Other Clean becomes evident from the first track: loaded with synth, electric guitars, layered vocals and keyboards, "Walking Far From Home" would seem to be yet another slap in the face to the old fans while high fiving those fans who embraced The Sheppards Dog. But it isn't. In fact, much of Kiss Each Other Clean is a synthesis of Beam's early work and his new, progressive style. "Walking Far From Home" is the perfect example of this: a soaring, high volume love-letter to the lo-fi solo folk of days gone by.
Throughout Kiss Each Other Clean we see this stark, beautiful contrast. One minute Beam is mastering soft rock with "Tree By The River," then returing to his solo Folk roots with "Glad Man Singing," right before upping the Funk to 11 with "Big Burned Hand." Beam no longer whispers his cryptic poetry however: his vocal strength is better than ever on this album, and no Beam's mild falsetto has the power and emotion that his earlier work was missing. Beam is never more haunting then on the final track, "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me" as he declares "we will/become/become" to a crescendo of static, saxaphones and blaring electric guitars. This is not the Beam you discovered back in High School.
Despite an eternally grim chorus of detractors, Beam has easily shaken his past and embrace a future eterally bright with possibilites. No longer limited by his own innovation, Beam is free to explore whatever he wishes to explore, and we are all invited along on his journey. Consider me one of those ready to follow him to wherever his path takes him.