Album | Iron & Wine – Light Verse

When Sam Beam (the man behind the moniker Iron & Wine) was asked for the reasons why he named his seventh solo studio album Light Verse, he spoke about the process of making it “felt like coming out of a tunnel into a kind of light” and he wanted a title to reflect this. It’s very well named too, with a lot of the songs wearing the melancholia of their subject matter lighter than can be found on earlier releases like The Shepherd’s Dog or Our Endless Numbered Days. The latter being his most celebrated collection of songs and one that finds itself celebrating its twentieth birthday in 2024. 

Let’s begin at the beginning. The first track, and leading single, ‘You Never Know’ is exactly the sort of song you’d describe if you were trying to do so to someone who had never heard anything before. A song about the endless possibilities that life allows us, like falling in love until you “have a heart that’s pouring out”, being nice to someone or finding a beat and making a song. 

Six years have passed since Beam released his previous album Beast Epic and this one finds him fully entrenched in middle age. The break has not see him rest on his laurels though with reissues, live albums, a second EP with Calexico and a documentary being put out in that time, along with two EPs of his own and a dip into his archives. This continuous pushing of releases has kept the songwriting wheels well oiled and it shows throughout these ten songs.

One of the many highlights is ‘All in Good Time’, a duet with Fiona Apple that tells of the ebb and flow of a relationship, always returning to the mantra of the title as a reset and the duo eek every last possible implication. “All in good time and that’s what it was/Mistook that cash in the mattress for love” as their voices grow stronger, the imaginations become wilder and more outlandish until the whole house of cards collapses.

These homestead recordings could’ve been done with a simple setup of guitar, drum and piano but Beam had deliberately expanded the horizons, allowing the songs space and time to grow and develop. Four of the songs feature a 24-piece orchestra, including the aforementioned ‘All in Good Time’, lending it a classic songwriting factory sound to proceedings. 

The orchestra lends power to the wonderful ‘Taken by Surprise’ and the closer ‘Angels Go Home’. The hushed nature of some of the non-orchestra songs allow the album to flow really well. Beam is on record saying that Light Verse has been deliberately shaped and recorded to be heard in one sitting. All these songs stand on their own, but there is a certain strength that hearing them together cannot be replicated in any other way.

A few months away from turning 50 and over 20 years into his recording career as Iron & Wine, Beam might not win many new fans with Light Verse but has added an important record to his canon, one that fans of his already will listen to repeatedly in the weeks and months ahead.