Iron and Wine continues his road down the glossy, highly produced road with Ghost on Ghost. This time around, however, he knocks this album out of the park.
Sam Beam, also known to most as Iron and Wine, has changed a lot since his 2001 album The Creek Drank the Cradle all those years ago. Instead of being by himself, he now performs with an eleven piece band behind him, including backing vocals and a horn section. He had this sound a couple of years ago with Kiss Each Other Clean, an album that was clearly focused for pop play and the adult crowd. It wasn’t a perfect album, but it lays down the groundwork for what Ghost on Ghost brings to the table.
Coming in at 44 minutes long, Ghost on Ghost moves back and forth from big band jams and quiet, gorgeous ballads, without losing the voice that makes Iron and Wine iconic in nature. The album does have the glossy production that Kiss Each Other Clean had, but that only makes these songs that much better. Slow masterpiece “Winter Prayers” has this coldness brought on by Beam through his bleak lyrics and methodical instrumentation. “Baby Center Stage” is a nice ballad that sounds like Elton John with a country folk twang that makes Iron and Wine distinct. The opener “Caught in the Briars” has some gorgeous symbolism (“Free as a morning bird/Fragile as china”) to open up the album, which ties beautifully with the interlude “Sundown (Back in the Briars),” a more stripped and heartfelt two minutes that fits so perfectly into the mix.
As much as quiet seems to be the best thing going for Iron and Wine, his louder, more energetic tracks also shine throughout Ghost. “Lovers’ Revolution” is almost six minutes in length, but uses all of the time to create quite a soundscape which starts as simple as a horn crescendo and grows into this Chicago-style swing set. “The Desert Babbler” reminds me, of anything, The Beegees. The tempo, lyrics, and majestic feel give me this overwhelming feeling of happiness and love that only 70’s R&B can do. The fastest song “Grace for Saints and Ramblers” doesn’t have the best instrumentation on the album, but the lyrics and the story it tells more than make up for it.
If you would’ve told me back in 2011 that not only will Sam Beam continue with this glossy production style, but make his best album in this style, I would’ve called you a liar. However, all twelve tracks that Ghost on Ghost showcases have Beam and his band sounding its best. Some of the best songs I’ve heard from Beam are encapsulated on the album, forever will be spinning next to “Naked as We Came” and “Boy with a Coin.” The best part of Ghost on Ghost, however, is not the instrumentation or the production. It’s Sam Beam and his whisper quiet vocals. Never would I think that the louder and more urgent the song would become, would Beam’s vocals be the glowing instrument from track to track. Even at the albums most cacophonous, Beam can still lull you into this happiness that continues on even after the album’s end.
Final Grade: A
Go Download: The album.