The Shepherd’s Dog

Onetime film professor Sam Beam, who makes his records under the nom de plume Iron and Wine (and at his home in Dripping Springs), began his career tentatively, whispering confessional tales over meager accompaniment. But he’s gained confidence and ambition over the years, so much so that The Shepherd’s Dog (Sub Pop) hardly seems like the work of the same artist. Over a lush, holographic soundscape, Beam juxtaposes odd instrumentation with weird clatters and noises to create a set of compelling, slowly spooling romantic narratives. He’s upfront about his musical inspirations—albums like R.E.M.’s Reckoning, for example—and cites Swordfishtrombones, by Tom Waits (apparently this month’s muse), as a big influence. Yet Beam doesn’t imitate. You can hear Waits in the jumble of instruments and the strange vocal treatments, but the end result is much more accessible, resembling seventies pop or, at times, Brian Wilson. With such a quiet vocal style and a tendency to bury his singing, Beam gives his music an urgency and mystery that might otherwise be absent. It just sounds like the stories are worth your attention. Almost always, they are.

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