Iron & Wine - The Creek Drank The Cradle (2002)
Having just listened to Horse Feather's album, I figured it would only be just to follow it up with what many consider to be at the forefront of the folk industry in the modern era. Sam Beam's efforts have given the genre a much-needed shot in the arm, not distinguishing countless other efforts over the past decades, but the genre was in need of some fresh blood. What Beam brings to the genre and music in general is a new approach to how music communicates with the listener. This isn't through simplicity, even though that's the main sound one may get from first listen to his debut album, and not through strange experimentation, but through a few advantages that Beam has to his arsenal.
At the forefront are his lyrics. They are beautiful and poetic at many times, but are also so simple in their premise that it baffles the listener. Take listen to what Beam focuses his attention on during his songs. It's hard to find a single song on here that doesn't have a recognizable line from it, but they are beautiful in almost all parts. Here's a few fun ones: "Grace is a gift for the fallen dear" ("An Angry Blade), "You're a poem of mystery" (Faded From The Winter), & "love is waiting and better days" ("Promise What You Will").
With the lyrics comes his attention to detail. Previously Beam taught film and it constantly comes up in interviews that there is some correlation between that and his music. Music and film already have such strong storytelling components between the two that, yes, that judgement is definitely true, but that doesn't mean the music George Lucas would record would be half as interesting. It's more personality than anything else and what Beam chooses to sing about, or more importantly how it' about. He focuses on small details and repeats lines constantly, building up suspense between such minute details like a bird stealing bread in different locations or a match being struck on a keyhole.
The music itself is complicated and concrete all at once. "An Angry Blade" has guitar hitting like rain on a window, striking at such precise moments that sound entirely different on another song on the same album "Muddy Hymnal." The album is mostly percussion-less often just Beam solo with a guitar being mixed on a 4-track, but he creates a White Stripes-like illusion of a much fuller band through such lack of instruments. The slide guitars weave in and out of songs and duel at some points ("Faded From The Winter" contains some great stuff) but also emphasize the music, not providing filler between verses but more of a path to the next portion of the song.
Another of Beam's driving forces is his voice. His melodic half-whisper is not only unique to music but creates a tone that is entirely his own. Throughout the album one gets the sensation that he is sharing something entirely intimate with the listener, something he has been pondering for months on end and is only now sharing with you through his song. It's easy to dismiss it as lazy or just bad in this American Idol karaoke age, but what Beam does is more impressive than most singers do. Listen to his voice on one of his early great "Upward Over the Mountain" and you can hear a voice being crafted in the song, a hesitation to sing it out as loud as possible but more to share a private coming-of-age moment in one's life.
The album's only downfalls are just a glimpse of what is to come. Iron & Wine have a great debut here that easily surpasses many bands that have come before and imitators that are to follow, but is does get caught up in its own genre a bit too much. Everything on here is incredibly interesting and not easy to skip, only suffering from just being so similar from some of the other ones that it's hard to distinguish one from the other. I don't mean this in a bad way, but only that some of the songs are repetitive in tone and message that it's easy to get lost on the album or, more likely, forget where you are. These are minor complaints on an overall great album, like a mindless complaint like "Revolver" needed more tracks."
Standout Track: "Upward Over The Mountain"
Overall Rating: 8.9
Some Trivia For "The Creek Drank The Cradle:"
* It's basically common knowledge that Beam taught Cinematography at the University of Miami before his music career took off. Some of his film credits, aside from music for "In Good Company," are hard to come by. Does anyone out there have a list of any films he's made or worked on?
* My good buddy (and Sam Beam aficionado Kyle) points out that Beam has directed all of his music videos up to "Boy With A Coin," so there's some of his work. I'm still interested in things outside of his music, though.
* One of the album's bonus tracks, correctly titled "Carissa's Weird," was available as a 7" vinyl single. Any correlation between that and the band of a similar mis-spelled name?
* The album has many great lines in it. One of my favorites is "We all assume the worst the best we can." Anyone else got any favorites?