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Iron & Wine

Around the Well (Sub Pop)

Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., May 15, 2009

Texas Platters

Iron & Wine

Around the Well (Sub Pop)

"I try to write humanistic songs," Sam Beam, the bearded poet behind Iron & Wine, told the Chronicle last year. "In the context of our culture, Abraham and Jesus are our mythology. We don't have the Greek myths. We've got Cain and Abel." No other songwriter has weaved the biblical and personal like Hill Country sage Beam, whose intimate delivery offsets his more cryptic connotations. Providing an alternate history of Iron & Wine, Around the Well taps two CDs' worth of B-sides, rarities, and soundtrack contributions, most notably "The Trapeze Swinger," which traces Beam's trajectory from the lo-fi bedroom folk of his 2002 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle ("Loud as Hope"), through the full-band, pastoral psychedelia of 2007's The Shepherd's Dog ("Carried Home"). Split between solo and accompanied recordings, Around the Well spills a stark Southern Gothic in "Dearest Foresaken" and "Morning," along with the idyllic romanticism of "Sacred Vision," reiterating what 2003's The Sea & the Rhythm EP already proved: Beam's session scraps can be as strikingly enthralling as his proper releases. The dusty, nostalgic lore of "Hickory" and "Friends They Are Jewels" is steeped in the isolation of Beam's Dripping Springs dwellings, while "Swans and the Swimming" is a detailed portrait of redemptive longing, and "Waitin' for a Superman" reimagines the Flaming Lips' original in the same mold as the Postal Service's euphoric "Such Great Heights." Production tightens disc two as sister Sarah Beam's harmony eases "Communion Cups & Someone's Coat." The dark, ruminative "No Moon" cuts from the same cloth as the more percussive Woman King EP, and "Serpent Charmer" tilts toward the New World enchantment in Beam's most recent work. Consider this Iron & Wine's apocrypha.

****

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