Iron & Wine’s Sumptuous New Album “Ghost On Ghost”.

Ghost On GhostIt looked as if Iron & Wine was part of that vogue for new roots Amer­i­cana that was all the rage about 4 or 5 years ago. Musi­cians seemed to be turn­ing away from dig­i­tal­ly mas­tered lay­ers of processed synths and return­ing instead to orig­i­nal instru­ments acousti­cal­ly record­ed in lofi.

Gillian Welch and Alli­son Krauss sang on O Broth­er Where Art Thou. And bands like Fleet Fox­es, Bon Iver and Iron & Wine enjoyed unex­pect­ed pop­u­lar acclaim, which I wrote about ear­li­er here.

Inevitably the hoi pol­loi caught on, and the result was alas Mum­ford and Sons.

In many ways though Iron & Wine, aka Sam Beam, has been mov­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion all along. He might have begun in the hushed, paired down, sparse acoustic mode beloved of many a bed­room. But his sound­scape has been expand­ing ever since.

His third album, The Shepherd’s Dog from 2007, which seemed at the time to be quin­tes­sen­tial­ly lofi, was fol­lowed by Kiss Each Oth­er Clean in 2011, and now this, Ghost On Ghost.

With each new album the sound gets big­ger, the arrange­ments more com­plex and his plain­tive vocals are cush­ioned ever more com­fort­ably in a bed of reverb and overdub.

Gram-ParsonIn oth­er words, he’s pur­su­ing the same course chart­ed by Gram Par­sons and The Fly­ing Bur­ri­to Broth­ers in the late 60s and ear­ly 70s. And by merg­ing the rich har­monies of the Beach Boys with the graft and craft of The Band, he gives his angst an unex­pect­ed glean.

Desert Bab­bler”, track 2 on this lat­est album, sounds like it could have been the B side on an unre­leased Beach Boys Christ­mas sin­gle. And track 3, “Joy” could just as eas­i­ly have been its A side. You can see the video for it here.

Whilst the penul­ti­mate track, “Lovers’ Rev­o­lu­tion” feels like some­thing that might have turned up on Astral Weeks if some­body else had been asked to pick up the mike – you can hear it here. Before “Baby Cen­ter Stage” brings the album to a serene close by return­ing us to the realm of Fleet­wood Mac, sun­shine and California.

Pris­tine pop cased in a rich musi­cal heritage.

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