The sonic backgrounds on "Walking Far From Home," the first track on Iron and Wine's new album Kiss Each Other Clean, craftily connects Iron and Wine's impressive effort on The Shepherd's Dog while, as the song title suggests, being away in a new time and place. We could infer, by studying the cover's illustration of a home in flames, that singer Sam Beam - calm, motionless and knee deep in water - is responsible for the fire and smoke.
Drifting about as far as one could expect him to go from earlier monastic-like folk numbers, track two, "Me and Lazarus," is crammed with funky bass and saxophone leads as it follows two characters that, surprisingly, "have nowhere to go." The album's most instant delight is "Tree By The River." Beam's lyrics breathe a welcomed nostalgia while his vocal layering are as favorable as anything he's created.
Beam's work as Iron & Wine is certainly responsible for folk melodies owning a popular place in independent music. Kiss Each Other Clean is ambitious (see "Big Burned Hand" and "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me"), but close listens to his previous two records reveal a man who's gravitating toward a fuller sound, whether with flares of blues, Cajun, African highlife or dub. Kiss Each Other Clean would certainly pair nicely with early '70s AM gold radio, but remove the horns, marimba and occasional funk and Beam's gentleness and gorgeous imagery point to a quiet troubadour. It's unlikely he'll revisit the campfire where he started, but no matter how far Beam wanders, home is just around the bend.