Compare and Contrast: Iron & Wine's Ghost On Ghost

Posted by on Friday, May 17, 2013

Welcome to another Compare and Contrast post where every week Tori Dickson and myself (Zach Gibson) review the same album so you the reader can get two different opinions. This week we took on Iron and Wine's newest release Ghost on Ghost

Zach's Review
Ghost On Ghost, is an even further departure from from soft-spoken acoustic sound of Sam Beam's earliest works, in a good way. With each Iron and Wine album the sounds get bigger. His last album, Kiss Each Other Clean started the shift in music styles. He's gone from a solo, acoustic singer of sad songs to a smooth 70's crooner with a jazz band behind him. Sometimes bigger is badder (I know badder is not a word, but I like how it sounds in this sentence), but that's not the case with Iron and Wine. His sound is constantly evolving into something new and exciting.
"The Desert Babbler", the second song on Ghost is one of my favorite songs this year. I played it on repeat for most of last month. It represents the new Sam Beam. He does his best Seals and Crofts impression with this song. It's very reminiscent of "Summer Breeze", one of my favorite sappy 70's songs. But Beam takes it to a level that Seals and Crofts couldn't. With oohs and ahhs and reflective lyrics, he nails this song perfectly.
Other favorites on the album include "Winter Prayers" & "New Mexico's No Breeze".
Even though this album is very good there are moments that slide over to the boring side. "Grass Window" and "Singers and the Endless Song" are two songs that I tend to skip over now after listening to this album so much. They remind me too much of songs from Kiss Each Other Clean. It's okay to keep with the same sound, but copying "Rabbit Will Run" for two consecutive songs on an album gets a little repetitive.
I do really like this album. I like that Sam Beam isn't comfortable and keeps trying new things. Whether it's funky jazz, 70's pop, or soft acoustic, Beam knows how to make beautiful long lasting music.

Tori's Review
I've always appreciated Iron & Wine. Samuel Beam is really talented. His music is beautiful and full of feeling. I even saw him live once in 2007 and it was good. I would never call myself much of a fan, though. While I'll really enjoy a song or two here and there, I don't think I've actually ever listened to an entire Iron & Wine album in one sitting. Beam just tends to be a little too soft for my taste.
That being said, I enjoyed his new album, Ghost On Ghost much more than I expected. The album starts strong with "Caught in the Briars," a fairly fun, upbeat, rhythmic tune featuring some horns and background singers. You hear a few more upbeat songs like this through the album including "Grace For Saints and Ramblers." Beam keeps this really do-wop, jazzy feel through out the album, which I love. There's even some bluesy feeling in songs like "Grass Widows" and a faint hint of funk in "Singers and the Endless Song." But when the album reaches "Sundown" the album starts to slow down a little and you can hear his past sounds start to sneak in bit. Which I'm totally fine with because it's beautiful and musicians should stay somewhat true to their roots if that's what they love. Then, just before he closes the album, he really gets jazzy with "Lover's Revolution." Though I'm not sure on the lyrics in this one, Beam really seems to showcase his vocal diversity in this song. Go Beam. He then fades it out with a little more of his country roots with "Baby Center Stage" leaving us swaying with our eyes closed, warm and happy.
I sort of skimmed through his previous albums on Spotify in preparation for this review and it seems as though Beam has gradually been building this sound into his work. He really shows he wants more as a musician in this album. He's incorporating rhythm and composition. He's growing and learning and diversifying. I am in full support of that.
Iron & Wine really caught my attention with this album. While he Beam hasn't quite mastered all the sounds he attempts with this album, it's clear that he's trying to expand and try new things. There are moments in Ghost On Ghost where his desire for more gets cluttered and feels awkward but we work our way through it. For the most part, this album is really enjoyable and I'm really curious to see what's next on the Iron & Wine horizon.

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