Iron & Wine achieves a rare feat with Ghost on Ghost: an adult contemporary album without cliche or compromise. It's Sam Beam's Graceland, except instead of South Africa, he's moved to North Carolina. The transition has been years in the making. Since the bedroom folk of 2002 debut The Creek Drank the Cradle, Iron & Wine has steadily expanded outward with varying degrees of success, delving into desert Americana (Calexico collaboration In the Reins), Afro-funk (The Shepherd's Dog), and golden AM pop/rock (2011's Kiss Each Other Clean). His fifth LP ties it all together with ethereal jazz-soul in summer colors, bolstered by the nimble swing provided by members of Bob Dylan's band and New Orleans horns orchestrated again by Tin Hat Trio's Rob Burger. Beam's postcard lyricism plays off familiar images – sinners, briars, country fairs – with an underlying theme of star-crossed lovers ("Grass Widows") and the plight of parenthood ("Singers and the Endless Song"). It doesn't always connect (see speakeasy spook "Lovers' Revolution"), and there's a disarming tenderness to "Joy" and "The Desert Babbler." But Beam hasn't lost his underlying darkness or disillusion, either; just check the wicked funk of "Low Light Buddy of Mine." This time, there's slightly less blood in the water.
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