Title - 'Kiss Each Other Clean' (Warner Bros.)
Artist - Iron & Wine
When I saw Sam Beam (aka Iron and Wine) at the Newport Folk Festival a few years back, I was amazed at just how different his singing was from the stage. Full throated and powerful, not the hushed whispery sound I was used to from his albums. A sound and a voice that surprised me, both by the sound and by how much I liked him. It made me wonder why he hadn't recorded himself that way before.
"Kiss Each Other Clean" is that record. Sam's major label debut (from Sub Pop to Warners), the new disc not only features Sam singing with his full voice, but with a much broader musical pallet. Turns out the guy must have been a serious Lindsey Buckingham buff, as much of this disc recalls the experimentation of Buckingham's "Go Insane" and "Law and Order" solos.
While die-hard fans might be in for a shock from the electronics and jazzy horn sections, the songs themselves are still what I expect when I play an Iron and Wine album. Compositions like "Monkeys" and "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me" are bursting with ideas and sounds that "The Shepherds Dog" merely hinted at. Even the Dj scratches and horns on "Big Burned Hand" (in my opinion, the weakest song on "Kiss") will have fans wondering where this Sam Beam has been hiding before letting it all cut loose.
The highlight for me is "Rabbit Will Rub," which slides on a slinky groove with an interesting drum pattern before the music drops out entirely, leaving Sam's voice to ride on the open air. Then the song kicks back in with an ethereal new jazzy rhythm and flute solo. It's the kind of song that would have fit in on TSD or even the EP "Woman King" as an ambitious experiment before this album, yet here it fits into Sam's new color scheme perfectly.
Like the bulk of "Kiss Each Other Clean," it's gorgeous and ambitious; Beam is an artist who just keeps stretching into better and better places. [TB]