The sixth album of Iron & Wine, the pseudonym of all American Samuel Beam, opens with the industrial sounds of a construction works, only then to jump into a gorgeous guitar intro reminiscent of previous albums. Ghost on Ghost, though feels distinctly different to the soft acoustic whisperings of Creek Drank the Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days, and still distant from the Twilight slanted Shepherd’s Dog. This album is more polished, Beam’s voice stronger and more developed, supported by backing vocals and the addition of a horn section, changes which bring about a new and wholly appreciated sound.
Opener ‘Caught in the Briars’ perfectly indicates the change of pace that Beam has chosen, both the lyrics and instrumentation twinkle with a mix of familiarity, innovation and excitement. The new additions to the clearly-not-so-one-man-band and fully demonstrated in ‘The Desert Babbler’ which oohhs and aahhs with the sixties sway of polished back-up singers. The lyrics are all-American with religious undertones, and Beam’s voice is full-bodied reaching wonderful highs. The sound is similar to that of emerging LA artist Matt Duncan, bringing a distinctly retro sound into this century, which, combined with Beam’s vocal is a wonderful juxtaposition and a great direction in which to take his sound.
Beam employs bluesy rhythms to his full-bodied roots ensemble often to dramatic effect, this is particularly prevalent on ‘Low Light Buddy of Mine’, which combines the more familiar tone and register of beams vocal, seriously doting “I love you and you love me” with a wonderful sax solo and complimentary back-up vocals. Rhythmically, ‘Grace for Saints and Ramblers’ has a similar feel to FFS favourites Belle and Sebastian. Beam’s seamless creativity is fully utilised on ‘Singers and the Endless Song’, as he constructs his own distorted version of the universe, through innovative lyrics supported by a layered and varied soundscape.
Ghost on Ghost is a logical and well executed next step for the ever-developing Iron & Wine. Beam’s voice has grown stronger, his lyrics have more conviction, the sound is full bodied supported by welcome additions of a horn section and female back-up vocals. That only leads us to ask, where will Iron & Wine go next?
Words: Amelia Steele