Iron and Wine
Around the Well
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2009, Volume 16, #7
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Wed July 29, 2009, 05:30 AM CDT
Those who have followed Sam Beamís career since his outfit Iron and Wine emerged as a basement recording project in the early days of the 21st Century may be a little perplexed and frustrated by Around the Well. For many, it has been a thrill to witness Beamís growth. Over the course of five years, he moved from the lo-fi atmospheres of The Creek Drank the Cradle to the sensitive singer/songwriter surroundings of Our Endless Numbered Days to the full-color, psychedelic tilt of The Shepherdís Dog. Until now, there has been no looking back.
Around the Well, however, is nothing but a reflection of Beamís past. Essentially, the set compiles an array of rarities and previously unreleased songs, all of which were recorded between 2002 and 2004. As promising as some of the individual tracks are, though, the lack of cohesion that often characterizes offerings such as this is unbearably frustrating.
Around the Well spreads 23 tracks across two discs. Its first half is devoted to Beamís early solo recordings. Not surprisingly, these songs are rough and endearing, much like those that found their way onto The Creek Drank the Cradle. Yet, it also is easy to understand why these tunes became outtakes. The same could be said about the collectionís second act, which encompasses the period that produced Our Endless Numbered Days.
This, of course, doesnít mean that the songs on Around the Well are bad; they simply arenít as strong as the material that Beam ultimately chose to include on Iron and Wineís efforts. This is especially true of the selections contained on Around the Wellís first disc. Itís hard to believe that anyone ó other than a future scholar who has been charged with the task of tracking Beamís artistic development ó would spend much time listening to these early, unpolished sketches. A few tunes ó such as Swans and the Swimming and Hickory ó provide examples of his developing lyrical prowess. Most Iron and Wine fans, however, will probably find the collectionís latter half to be far more compelling.
There are those who will be happy with the inclusion of The Trapeze Singer, a tune that was featured in the film In Good Company, as well as Iron and Wineís impromptu rendition of New Orderís Love Vigilantes on which Beam unearths the songís emotional center. Nevertheless, the only truly essential track on Around the Well is Carried Home, a complex, percussive exploration of a whole universe of sound that prefigures Beamís unparalleled work on The Shepherdís Dog. At nearly seven minutes in length, this track encompasses everything that is great about Iron and Wine: the groupís compelling lyrics, impassioned vocals, and inspired arrangements. With its swirling, hypnotic keyboards and unusual rhythms, Carried Home stands in stark contrast to the interesting but undeveloped material that fills the rest of Around the Well.
There is no denying the facts that Beam is an important artist and that Iron and Wine is one of the most essential bands to emerge in the past decade. Perhaps if it had been released several decades from now, Around the Well would be welcomed as heartily as the discovery of a lost session by Bob Dylan or a previously unheard recording of Hank Williams. Unfortunately, Around the Well has been issued too early to have much of an impact upon Beamís career. He has evolved so rapidly that his fans likely are more interested in seeing how he will build upon his work on The Shepherdís Dog than in looking back to these more embryonic and undeveloped snapshots of his past. To put it simply, Beamís best moments lie ahead not behind him, and Around the Well is nothing more than a curiosity designed to fill his coffers.
Of Further Interest...
Around the Well is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box