Review: Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
Published on April 24th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
When Sam Beam’s sixth Iron & Wine album kicks off with a spate of signature sounds – full, shuffling rhythm section, just-about-reined-in vocal, imagery-loaded lyricism, breezy melodies, huffing baritone sax section – it treads a fine line between reassuring and overfamiliar. Happily, what ensues is sufficiently joyous as to announce Ghost on Ghost as a classy, easy-going summer soundtrack in waiting.
Like the wine of his moniker – and indeed the whiskey his real name sounds like (“Sam Beam and coke, please”) – this guy gets better with age. As such we get the smooth classic soul likes of “The Desert Babbler”, melodically spare yet savvy and invested with all the heart it needs to stave off the whiff of pastiche, and the twinkly, jazzy ode to being in love that is the aptly titled “Joy”. “It’s a heartfelt, silly sort of bumbling tune / But now you’re bringing me joy” practically reviews itself, while killer lines like “I’m only frightened ’cause you finally gave me something to lose” are scattered liberally and with supreme artistry across the whole album.
Beam is in inspired lyrical form here, standout vignettes including “There’s no night, there’s no day / With only hope in your pockets and hell to pay” (“Winter Prayers”) and “No one knew the arm was broken but everybody signed the cast” (“Lover’s Revolution”), but this only tells part of the story: there are fluttery string arrangements, soulful piano interjections, strange, inverted rhythms and, on “Grass Widows”, a triplety swing hosting a luxurious round of ba ba bas.
There is darkness amongst the light – “Low Light Buddy of Mine” could almost have featured on Jim James’s recent album, while the excellent “Winter Prayers” is woven from folkishly foreboding acoustic fingerpicking – so the swooning, pedal steel-assisted “Baby Center Stage” swoops in to end Ghost on Ghost on a suitably sunny note. Another beaming LP, then, and just in time for all that unfamiliar bright ‘n’ blue stuff up in the sky.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!