Wordslinger: “May we please see the wine list?”

Before I ever ventured into fiction writing, I fancied myself a poet. I met my wife in late 88’ and my head and heart became flooded with artistic expression. It came out of me in the form of drawings, poems and eventually found a permanent outlet in song(s). I’ve spent over twenty years writing over 600 hundred songs and I have only begun to know and appreciate my muse.

My taste in music and my style of writing has changed in those twenty years. Much of it was a result of artists I became exposed to. Those whose influence is evident (perhaps even obvious) are: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, R.E.M. and most recently, Iron & Wine. (Jeez, that was quite the segway and to the untrained eye may appear to be a back handed way of bringing up my own musical endeavors, but I assure you, it was only my way of simultaneously validating the brilliant music I’m about to review, and punctuating my own personal admiration for the artist). As Theodore Roosevelt said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Fans of the Twilight movies will know the band Iron & Wine from the first soundtrack. It was the song that played when Edward and Bella danced in the gazebo, and I’ll freely admit not my favorite tune on the album. I’m a huge MuteMath fan because of their song Spotlight and highly recommend any of their three albums by the way but my wife liked the “dancing” song way more than I did and picked up the album the song came from. This is the song incidentally that the director confirmed was presented to her by Kristen Stewart and much to their mutual delight, made it all the way through the film’s soundtrack editors.

The album is called The Shepherd’s Dog, and right off the bat, I gotta tell you, Flightless Bird, American Mouth was the only song that sounded like the sweet waltz at the end of Twilight. The rest of it was a tangle of wit and wisdom wrapped in strange instrumentation and dizzying imagination. It’s a lot to take in even though it’s mostly a quiet, peaceful collection of songs. I was captivated in a way I hadn’t been since I discovered the band Yes.

Iron & Wine is actually one fellow, (like Nine Inch Nails and Cher), and His name is Sam Beam, (no relation). It was the second song on the album that got me first. I would listen to it over and over as I walked to and from work each day for an entire month before I truly sank into the whole CD. Actually, that last statement was quite literal because I was actually playing that song on a portable CD player that I could have put wheels on and ridden to work except that it would have skipped the CD!

The song that hooked me is called White Tooth Man and I simply couldn’t figure out how Iron & Wine crafted something so instantly interesting while lyrically confounding to almost comical proportions. His voice is pleasant if faint, more like a stage whisper and a contrast to the imposing bearded figure who stands on stage and sings his songs. Yet, his soft touch is neither difficult to hear nor drag queeny. In fact, it lends urgency to his mysterious words.

Ordinarily, I don’t like to separate lyrics from the music as it is often a component that provides not only context, but cadence. In the case of Iron & Wine, his bare words are good enough to not only stand alone, but intrigue without the benefit of his masterful music. You be the judge.

Said the plainclothes cop to the beauty queen
“I’ve seen nothing but a spoke in a wheel”
So she gave up her crown to a kid with a crutch
And they both felt cheated after closing the deal

And the white tooth man, I ran with him
Got all cut up from pissing out in the weeds
And I fight upstate with a broken blade
And a wife whose finger never wanted a ring

Said the plainclothes cop to the Indian chief
“I’ve made nothing but an honest mistake”
The postman cried while reading the mail
And we all got trampled in the Christmas Parade

And the white tooth man who sold me a gun
A map of Canaan and a government bond
Said, “I love this town, but it ain’t the same”
The ski mask ripped as he was putting it on

Said the plainclothes cop to the holy ghost
“I’ve heard nothing if it wasn’t the wind”
We all got sick on a strip club meal
While the statehouse frying all the witches again

So the white tooth man with his kids in the car
And a wad of money that was already spent
Said, “I love my dog but she just ran away
She’ll keep running like the world never ends”

As compelled as I was by this song, it was only the tip of the iceberg with this fascinatingly complex album. I backtracked and found that he had only recently begun to add more than a mandolin to his compositions and the stage whisper was down right timid. Still it was nice and some bluesy gems like Free Until They Cut Me Down are amazing and probably the first music or YouTube link I’ll include with this months’ submission.

What I find interesting, is that he released a double album Around The Well, as a follow up to which seemed wholly self-aware by way of separating his simple recordings from his busier and more progressive music in a collection of songs that never found their way onto previous albums.

Songs like Serpent Charmer and Arms of a Thief are worth seeking out if only for the creative way Iron & Wine uses radio noise and rhythm within already brilliant compositions. I admire his ability to mix old songwriting with new techniques to create something wholly unique in a world already stuffed with genuine talent.

A fragile and haunting song near the end of the second disc is called Carried Home. It has a particularly understated footprint but it’s a significant contribution to the artistic world. Here are the lyrics for Carried Home:

The kettle burned ’cause I left it too long
When we were kissing with the radio on
The cat was choking on a rattlesnake bone
The town had gathered around the soldier boy
Carried home, carried home

The sick kids ate a bowl of red clay
And every summer day was ended in rain
The late judge teetered in a jon boat
The town had gathered around the soldier boy
Carried home, carried home, carried home

The broken window and the pretty blue sky
And cold water for my swollen black eye
We shook some money from your mother’s old clothes
When all had gathered around the soldier boy
Carried home, carried home, carried home

Carried home
Carried home
Carried home

I wish to stress that these songs may seem random to the point of confusion but there is a well thought out narrative to each of his stories. The latter, is clearly a reflection of war and with the haunting and hypnotizing music it can grab a hold of you like a fresh dream.

I find myself in awe of the way his words drip like wet paint and how he blends them with accompaniment that is most acoustic yet includes elements of experimentation. It’s like someone gave Shakespeare a guitar (and a tab of acid).

I wrote and recorded a soundtrack for two books I posted on-line and the influence of Iron & Wine was prevalent and embraced. I deconstructed songs and rebuilt them with new ears and was rewarded for the effort. However, if you’re going to click over to iTunes after reading this, I urge you to type in his name instead of mine. Iron & Wine is an industry darling for good reason. The world needs music like his. It’s hearty and healing and even if it’s hard to hear it’s always hopeful in the end. He doesn’t do it often, but this guy also knows when and where to place the word “fuck” in a song.

Since I am a triplet by birth (Is there any other way)? I am pre-dispositional to do things in 3’s so I will end with another set of lyrics. This time from a song off of an e.p. called Woman King. It’s got some of his most daring music as well as his most fragile and here is his words to the song, Freedom Hangs Like Heaven.

Mary, carry your babe
Bound up tight like lips around a whimper
Your fingers over my face
Blind eyed Samson driven to the temple
And night birds digging until dawn
Freedom hangs like heaven over everyone
Ain’t nobody knows what the newborn holds
But his mama says he’ll walk on water
And wander back home

Mary, carry your shame
Well past all those eyes across the avenue
Fish heads running from rain
You know I’ll do anything you want me to
Lamp oil lovers may say
“freedom hangs like heaven over everyone”
Ain’t nobody knows what the newborn holds
But his papa’s going to hide shaking gristle
And shaking like bone

Mary, carry my name
Hoof marks hacked up all I had to offer you
Looked all over this place
Lost your portrait lately when the winter blew
In like Herod and them
Freedom hangs like heaven over everyone
Ain’t nobody knows what the newborn holds
But a dollar says he’ll lick that devil
And do it alone

Other songs I didn’t have time to gush over and almost included instead of the three examples I finally settled on:

Evening on the Grounds
Boy with a Coin
House by the Sea
Rabbit Will Run
Peace Beneath the City
Belated Promise Ring
Jesus the Mexican Boy
Innocent Bones

See you next month when I explain a month long writing experiment I plan to undertake and share with you. (A twist on NaNoWriMo).

Your Pal,

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