A soft-spoken man with a Stonewall Jackson beard, singer-songwriter Sam Beam has spent the past decade recording as Iron and Wine, blossoming along the way from bare acoustic numbers into fully realized arrangements that draw from musical traditions both near and far.
Tuesday evening, Beam, backed by frequent collaborators Calexico, will headline a lyrical army of fellow artists and songwriters including Nick Lowe, Glen Hansard, Beth Orton and Kathleen Edwards in support of public radio during WFUV’s annual Holiday Cheer for FUV concert.
In advance of this all-star rally, amNewYork takes a look back at Iron & Wine's wonderfully wandering career thus far.
Beam’s 2002 debut “The Creek Drank the Cradle” is a masterpiece of sparely wrought folk, with tracks like “Lion’s Mane” and “Southern Anthem” instantly establishing the shorthand for an “Iron and Wine” sound: simple guitar beneath Beam’s warm whisperings that send shivers down the spine.
A breakout moment came when Beam transformed the Postal Service’s ubiquitous glitch-pop single “Such Great Heights” into a hushed, contemplative fireside lullaby. His intimate take most notable sat alongside early-aughts indie heroes The Shins on the seminal “Garden State” soundtrack, and its inclusion remains one of Zach Braff’s best decisions.
The odd pairing of a Florida folkie and Arizona’s finest experimental country-and-western collective resulted in “In the Reins,” one of 2004’s most interesting releases. Beam’s purple sage adventures with Calexico are a rare occasion where the sum of the parts is precise, with neither artist subtracting an ounce of their appeal to suit the other and stellar art the result.
He's a new Neil Young
By 2007, Beam had sloughed off the single-voice-and-guitar mystique and turned in “The Shepherd’s Dog,” an unexpectedly panoramic album that wove strands of upbeat, richly produced pop laden with brass and Afropop rhythms into his characteristically somber approach.
“Ghost on Ghost,” released earlier this year, dials back the immersive sound of its predecessor and shows Beam maturing into the sort of sharp, progressive musician who can write both dark and light, mixing sunny cuts like “The Desert Babbler” with soul-clenching tracks like “Joy” that remind listeners why Iron and Wine is like no other.
If you go: Holiday Cheer for FUV is at Beacon Theater Tuesday at 8 p.m., 2124 Broadway, 212-465-6500, $45–$300.