Samuel Beam has begun his string of archival Iron & Wine releases, starting with the aptly-named Archive Series No. 1, outtakes from his debut The Creek Drank The Cradle. The series will be released on his own label, Black Cricket Recording Co., as opposed to Sub Pop, who has issued each studio release created by the indie folk singer-songwriter.
As with any archival album of previously unreleased material, you have to judge differently than you would a new record. This is a gift from the artist to the die-hards, a sneak peak in to the 4-track home-recording sessions that jumpstarted a fruitful career. From the start, the lo-fi indie-folk is reminiscent of that debut effort. You can hear each string scratch as Beam moves around the fretboard, providing the same kind of warmth that gives vinyl its appeal.
Lyrically, Beam is surreal in his storytelling. In "Two Hungry Blackbirds," the lyrics go, "If I could be over you when the sky starts falling / Would you be smothered under me? / If I could be under you if the earth was burning / Would you be crying over me?" It is some of the saddest songwriting you could expect from Beam, or anyone else for that matter. It is the kind of existential acoustic folk that'll have you questioning your very own existence over a cup of herbal tea (or something harder) by candlelight.
"Someday soon when we hear from Atlanta we won't need some Christmas to spend time together," is a line from "Freckled Girl" that's relatable to anyone who has ever dealt with a long-distance relationship. Pining for the one you love who is miles and miles away is not an easy thing to deal with, and like most topics that Beam touches on, he has a real way of conveying that emotion to the listener.
The lyrics of "Everyone's Summer of '95" are a little more upbeat, though. Reminiscent of Jack Kereouac's Americana adventures, Beam talks about, "hitching a ride with a crusty girl / Me and the boys stole a tie dye shirt and a kiss or two / Halfway home and going nowhere." The kind of freedom you might expect from a southern flower child is a nice contrast from the emotional writing that is present in other songs.
Musically, Archive Series Volume No. 1 is very soothing, especially for a 4-track recording. Banjo and acoustic guitar are most present throughout the release, and Beam makes things especially interesting when slide guitar comes in to play.
Overall, you can never really complain when an artist sets his studio outtakes loose, but this is an exceptional instance. Sixteen songs that are stylistically congruent with his first effort will bring great pleasure to those who enjoyed his first release, and provides great insight to where he came from as an artist.
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