The Take


The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - TONY CLAY­TON-LEA

Our crit­ics’ se­lec­tion of the best live events

Not many peo­ple know this, but 20 years ago, when Amer­i­can singer­song­writer Sam Beam was study­ing film, he was work­ing on a low bud­get movie in the mid­dle of ru­ral Ge­or­gia.

Step­ping into a lo­cal petrol sta­tion shop, he spied on the shelves a pro­tein sup­ple­ment called Beef, Iron & Wine. The rest is some shape of his­tory – Beam dropped the ‘Beef’ be­cause he re­alised that in his at­tempts at song­writ­ing he wanted to high­light what he termed the “sour and the sweet”.

Be­fore the song­writ­ing took hold, how­ever, Beam was a movie man. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Florida State Uni­ver­sity Film School, his po­si­tion as Pro­fes­sor of Film & Cine­matog­ra­phy at the Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami and Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Art & De­sign yielded his pri­mary source of in­come. A friend of his at the time, how­ever, gave him the loan of a four-track recorder, and be­fore too long Beam signed a deal with Sub Pop.

In­flu­ences were, per­haps, the usual ones that bud­ding singer-song­writ­ers fall un­der the spell of (Nick Drake, Neil Young, El­liott Smith) but his 2002 de­but al­bum, The Creek Drank the

Cra­dle, was none­the­less praised for its va­ri­ety of low-key folk/roots styles, of which all were height­ened by Beam’s voice. For an al­bum that com­prised a bunch of songs de­moed on that four-track recorder it hit the mark, with Drowned In Sound call­ing it “a mas­ter­stroke of lilt­ing, lit­er­ate, whis­pered and im­pas­sioned coun­try-folk that sets Sam Beam out as one of Amer­ica’s finest new song­writ­ers”.

Of course, the “new” tag has long since dis­ap­peared. No longer the in­genue, Beam is one of the more pro­lific Amer­i­can singer-song­writ­ers out there: since his de­but, he has re­leased a fur­ther seven stu­dio al­bums (two in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other song­writ­ers – solo artist Jesca Hoop and Band of Horses’ Ben Brid­well), seven EPs, three live al­bums, and three com­pi­la­tions con­sist­ing of rar­i­ties, b-sides and pre­vi­ously un­re­leased home record­ings. Where oth­ers scrape the bot­tom of the bar­rel, how­ever, there is qual­ity in all of th­ese, and that is one of Beam’s sav­ing graces.

Now ap­proach­ing his mid-40s, mar­ried, with five daugh­ters (blessed is he amongst women, and so on), Beam cer­tainly has enough real-life ma­te­rial pass­ing by him ev­ery day by which to forge songs. His lat­est al­bum – last year’s Beast Epic, which fol­lowed his two-al­bum col­lab­o­ra­tion – brought him right back to where he started: singing down­tempo, res­o­nant acous­tic songs that are equal parts ro­man­tic (‘you raised your glass, and the scars fell off my heart’, he sings on Sum­mer Clouds) and folksy. Re­view­ing the al­bum on its re­lease last Au­gust, Rolling Stone noted that Iron & Wine had “re­dis­cov­ered the power and beauty in scal­ing back when it serves the song . . . the re­sult is Beam’s most dy­namic and con­vinc­ing record in years”.

Such a crit­i­cal tone rings true when you take into ac­count Beam’s own feel­ings on the al­bum. In an unusual in­stance of a song­writer (rather than a record-com­pany em­ployee) out­lin­ing the rea­sons or themes be­hind a record, Beam says the lat­est al­bum is steeped in the pass­ing of time. “Where the older songs painted a pic­ture of youth mov­ing wide-eyed into adult­hood’s vi­o­lent plea­sures and dis­ap­point­ments, this col­lec­tion speaks to the beauty and pain of grow­ing up af­ter you’ve al­ready grown up. For me, that ex­pe­ri­ence has been more gen­er­ous in its gifts and darker in its tragedies.” And a happy St Valen­tine’s Day to you, too.

Iron & Wine plays The He­lix, Dublin, next Wed­nes­day. See tick­et­mas­


Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, on­stage in Berlin last month.

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