Iron & Ridiculous

So an old friend and fellow indie-folk enthusiast sent me yet another Iron & Wine “unknown session” today, this time with 20 new songs. There’s no accompanying text file or Google-able history, so we’re going to have to assume that these songs predate The Creek Drank The Cradle because they include alternate versions of two Creek songs, plus they’re all oldskool lo-fi.

In honor of 18 brand-new-old songs and a recently acquired 12.11.04 bootleg, I’m posting my previously unpublished review of Iron & Wine solo last December. Here’s an mp3 from the sessions to make the writing go down that much smoother: Iron & Wine – In Our Own Time.

Iron & Wine at The Avalon Hollywood, Tuesday December 7th 2004.

Bearded men with acoustic guitars go unnoticed every day on the streets of Los Angeles. When they play at the Avalon in Hollywood, people stand up and cheer. Sam Beam, the heavily bearded man better known as Iron & Wine, played a rare solo show at the Avalon on Tuesday night to the reception of much of the latter.

A capacity crowd showered Beam with thunderous applause after nearly every song, a tribute to his compelling performances as well as their own devotion. Beam didn’t make it easy on the audience, playing rarities like “No Moon” and a much-improved version of the very early “Dead Man’s Will.” Throughout the night, he played updated versions of songs old and new, adding new arrangements to “Upward Over The Mountain” and playing the normally sunny “Love And Some Verses” in a dark, minor key. Standing on stage alone with only an acoustic guitar and water bottle for support, Beam was confident and jovial, stopping in the middle of the tense “Free Until They Cut Me Down” to laugh at a fan who had earlier referred to himself as “Jerkules.”

Beam was excited about his new songs as well as the new live arrangements, playing two unreleased tracks early in the set. One of them was “Woman King,” the titular track of an upcoming EP. Even more impressive was an untitled song he described as having been written for a movie that apparently “didn’t like it.” The song seemed to be an ode to youth, echoing the guitar work of Nick Drake with its intricate bass and melody lines. Beam did play his recent foray into soundtracks, opening his encore with the Postal Service cover “Such Great Heights,” which appeared in “Garden State.”

For all of his instrumental skill and the wide array of songs, what drew fans to Beam on Tuesday was his voice. High and sweet without sacrificing strength and masculinity, Beam has a gift that shines even brighter outside of the confines of the lo-fi production values which mark his first recordings. Matched with lyrics as intense and gripping as any in the modern catalog (“Free Until They Cut Me Down,” for instance, is a first-person narrative of a Southern man’s accusation of rape and subsequent hanging told with palpable emotion), the songs and performances of Iron & Wine deserve recognition. On Tuesday night, Beam got what he deserved and more.

And to further your drooling beard-folk obsession, here’s my interview with Sam and my Our Endless Numbered Days review. Scroll past that Liars review and there you have it: beards everywhere.