Iron & Wine - Archive Series Volume 1

by D R Pautsch Rating:9 Release Date:2015-02-25

Sam Bean has been delivering porcelain-like moments of music for some time now. His recent forays may be a departure but he has made a niche of provoking emotions using sparse arrangements and lyrics that wound. 

This is his first rummage through the tapes and is a companion-piece to his first album, The Creek That Drank the Cradle. At 16 tracks, you might worry that it will be thin and lacking in any great moments. This is far from the case.

The one possible complaint about Bean’s early efforts is that they were too one-paced. So it’s a delight to hear moments like 'Judgement' that chug along with the momentum of a slow-moving train and break the delicate vocal and guitar efforts up. 'Freckled Girl' sounds like he is channelling Neil Young and his superlative Sugar Mountain. The gentle love shown here almost breaks the heart.

'Minor Piano Keys' is a number to devastate. It’s so slow and excruciatingly put-together it feels like it’s going to be maudlin before the opening lyrics hits. It doesn’t disappoint. 

'Quarters in a Pocket' is possibly the lyrical and musical highlight of the whole affair. The plaintive lyric ("Time spent with you feels like charcoal sketches for a painting that you won’t let me see") is delivered with a rising banjo that belies its bitterness. You are left wondering quite how much material was left out of that first album and what the rest of the archives might contain.

This is far more than a trawl of the bottom drawer. Rather than a peek into that drawer, it feels like you are glimpsing into the soul of a tortured artist at times, although it’s not all like that. For one thing, this collection makes you go back and listen to the original album and wonder why some of these songs were left off. 

The quality of the recordings is the equal of that album and many songs are better than those that were selected. That he couldn’t keep this level of intimacy on recent releases is only to be expected, but this is a welcome return to the old style and bodes well for the future releases from the archive.  

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