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Album review: Iron and Wine's 'Around the Well'

May 18, 2009 |  7:26 pm

Iron-and-wine-around-the-we In 2007 Sam Beam surprised fans of his acclaimed indie-folk outfit Iron and Wine with "The Shepherd's Dog," on which he and a cast of enablers (including producer Brian Deck) tricked out Beam's hushed acoustic lullabies with noisy electric guitars and funky West African rhythms. The album was a bold artistic leap from a band not known for its boldness.

If "The Shepherd's Dog" cost Beam any of his devotees, this double-disc rarities set should win them back. Though it collects 23 tracks from a wide variety of sources -- movie soundtracks, out-of-print singles, album-outtake reels -- "Around the Well" mostly adheres to the established Iron and Wine sound. Think delicate guitar patterns overlaid with breathy close-harmony vocals.

Thanks to Beam's songwriting and his uniformly pretty singing, the music's familiarity doesn't take away from its loveliness. In "Morning" he channels the hopeful innocence of "Our House"-era Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, while "Communion Cups and Someone's Coat" (which features some of his nimblest fingerpicking yet) mines a deep vein of homesick melancholy.

Several unlikely covers demonstrate how durable Beam's approach remains; his stripped-down versions of Stereolab's "Peng! 33" and New Order's "Love Vigilantes" make it hard to remember the sleek electronic surfaces of the originals.

-- Mikael Wood

Iron and Wine
"Around the Well"
(Sub Pop)

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