Iron and Wine's queaky frets never sounded so good. - Oh My Rockness

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Iron and Wine's queaky frets never sounded so good.

December 1, 2005
The last time I saw Iron and Wine the crowd was so quiet we could clearly hear the squeak of Sam Beam's guitar as his fingers changed frets. I think I even heard someone's cell phone go off way up in the balcony... a cell phone on vibrate. When this guy plays, people stop being silly and start getting focused. We strain to hear his subtleties, knowing it's a sure path to the musical sublime.

Sam Beam has a good story. He's an unassuming family man and former film professor from Miami who just so happens to record for Sub Pop and sell out virtually every show he plays around the country. He is an unlikely rock star that doesn't even play rock music. Beam is also proof that folk music didn't die with the end of the 60's; it just started sucking as the guard got older and gradually turned the genre into something sounding suspiciously like adult contemporary. But Beam is taking folk back and returning it to the (relatively) young, to whom it has always belonged. As a matter of fact, looking around at the faces of the Bowery crowd, I saw nary a wrinkle in sight.

This is music that soothes, thanks in no small part to the prettiest acoustic finger-picked notes you can hope to hear. Delicate banjos and sparse sliding guitars flesh out the sound around Beam's hushed, crystal clear voice. The vocals aren't meant to be the center of attention; rather they're meant to tell a story. You can hear every syllable of every word, building complete songs from literary foundations. Whether he's telling us about crashing waves, a Mexican boy born in the back of a truck on the 4th of July, or hymns sung on endless, numbered days, we, the listeners and the audience, are completely captivated. Beam's music takes us to specific places at specific times, forming pictures in our heads that linger long after the final note is picked. Now that's folk.

Iron and Wine plays with Calexico at the Congress Theatre, Sunday, December 11th.


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