Album Review

Ghost on Ghost

Ghost on Ghost

by Iron and Wine

7.8 / 10
8th May 2013

Reviewed by Matthew Cattin

Iron and Wine’s fifth full-length effort Ghost on Ghost sees Samuel Beam take a large, determined step towards pop music to varying results. An artist of many chapters, Beam’s capricious career has crossed genres album to album. From the pure sentiments whispered intimately on 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days to the Mediterranean sprawl of 2007’s follow up The Shepherd’s Dog, Beam seems inherently Nordic in style and sound. 2011 indicated a further shift in direction for Beam, the pop-focused Kiss Each Other Clean – a record that emanates Beach Boys harmony and carefreeness and most closely resembles Beam’s latest offering Ghost on Ghost .

From album opener ‘Caught in the Briars’, it seems a weight has been lifted from Beam’s shoulders. Relaxed and whimsical, the tune recalls Cat Stevens at his most celebratory – a vast array of instrumentation adding to the merriment. Woodwind and brass support an acoustic riff, providing the backbone for what sounds like a holiday-revived Beam – an optimism I’m not accustomed to but enjoy nonetheless. After a brief, double time jazz outro, the good vibes continue on following track ‘The Desert Babbler’ in which Beam shows off his smooth falsetto in a mid-tempo, almost disco-esque ballad. Backed by a layered bed of oohs and ahhs, the track winds back the clocks and resonates 70’s heartthrobs Bread. It’s a far cry from the intimacy of early Iron and Wine LPs but the direction is fully embraced and realised with genuine flair.

The edge of previous efforts returns with fourth track ‘Low Light Buddy of Mine’, an ominous bass driven tune peppered sparingly with woodwind and muted guitar licks. “He’s in a white car waiting in a parking lot and he’s jealous of me and what we’ve got,” sings Beam hauntingly. A scandalous saxophone solos over the bass and drums, furthering the sexual and mysterious mood.

Those hoping for Iron and Wine of old will almost find it near the album’s end in the track ‘Winter Prayers’. Subdued and cosy, Beam sings closely over his familiar acoustic and a piano. A double bass marks the chord changes and the album’s signature background oohs and ahhs keep it from sounding too close to early Iron and Wine.

Drawn in by Iron and Wine’s first albums, I must admit I’m still finding my footing with Beam’s pop-driven direction. It’s almost as though Beam has spent too long in the city after leaving a humble country life. While Ghost on Ghost is a wonderfully produced album, cohesive and very listenable, I’m not sure Beam’s new clothes suit him as well as the old. In saying that, itchy feet are an admirable trait in any musician and Beam has definitely dipped his toes in more genres than many, proving his versatility more than once and with bated breath, I will eagerly await his next journey.

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