Sam Beam has been one of the most consistent performing artists in recent memory. From the fledgling days of Iron & Wine, his humble and honest approach to music and lyrics has acted as lasting panacea to the modern music industry. Solid stone among the ever-churning foam of bleeps and boops and who can make the biggest waves before the swell subsides to a new tide. So often the downfall of musicians, steadiness has been Iron & Wine’s strength; the reliable and gorgeously constructed folk balladry proving warm rather than worn, even as he stretched his branches into the jazz and blues influenced efforts of recent years. Despite seeming to be a man forever occupying a patch of deep purple, last year’s Beast Epic nevertheless felt like a return to form for Iron & Wine.
Now twelve months later, the six songs of Weed Garden paint a fuller picture of that record. Beam appears as a man reveling in the enjoyment of creation, the subtle reversion to the simplicity of his early work and the step back to enjoy the view allowing the songwriter inside to flourish. These songs feel just as natural as those of Beast Epic, beautiful and sincere observations on the peculiarities of life and humanity told through his Beam’s characteristic soft melodies and song structures rooted as firmly to the earth as his words. In fairness, the growth he’s earned during the forays of his catalog is showcased nicely in the blues elements of ‘Last of Your Rock ‘n’ Roll Heroes’ and the more experimental tweaks of ‘Milkweed’ that dips a toe into the depths occupied by the likes of Nick Cave and Swans. But on the whole, this is 20 minutes that will please the lovers of what he does best, the gorgeous folk structures dominated by fingerpicked motifs, gentle strums and Beam’s infinitely enviable talent of pouring out profound rhyming couplets with consummate ease and eloquence.
What words they are too. Beam’s thoughts softly grapple with the tension between seeking the ideal and settling for the real. “Let’s become the lovers we want, let’s become the lovers we need,” he pines on ‘What Hurts Worse’, a gentle lament to the failures that hold us back. ‘Waves of Galveston’ sifts through themes of home in all its painful solace with Beam’s characteristic wry study of the South as he laments “it’s too bad Texas leans to the least of us all and says ‘if you can make the music you can have the dance, if you can shoot the pistol you can wear the pants.” But the search for an authentic place of simple love seems to be where his thoughts have led him and he saves the best for the end. “Some want love and some want gold, I just want to see you in the morning” he sings on ‘Autumn Town Leaves’ before the yearning ‘Talking to Fog’ softly closes out the all too short collection with a touching “where the faces of our family and friends go on and on”. Both tracks are exquisite in their effortless sincerity – perhaps two of the best songs Beam has ever written – and true credit to a wonderful songwriter at the top of his game. Weed Garden is more welcome Iron & Wine material to be cherished.