Oh, what a wistful record. Iron and Wine’s newest EP, Woman King, is beautiful and bittersweet in all the ways folk music hopes for. Samuel Beam, the singer-songwriter behind the project, has always gravitated toward musical mysticism. Songs on his last album, Our Endless Numbered Days, bore cryptic lyrics and trancelike chord progressions, lulling the listener to sleep. Like his last album, Woman King bears the same musical traits. On this collection, however, Beam shows more ambition, beefing up the arrangements but still maintaining a low-fi indie aesthetic.
The opening song, “Woman King,” begins with a clockwork rhythm and a guitar melody that goes everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Beam speaks of “ravens and blackbirds,” as well as a mysterious “woman king” that reappears every “hundred years.” “Evening on the Ground” continues this same country sex motif, comparing kisses to “spider bites on lovers.” He sometimes seems unnecessarily vulgar. On this same track, he sharply bites, “We were born to fuck each other one way or another.” This lessens the record’s soothing intimacy and seems somewhat out of place.
But some of these songs are simply too soothing. “Jezebel,” originally a demo recording sent to Sub Pop, is redone here in shining form. Banjos and dulcimers hammer throughout, while Beam’s serenade is husky and restrained, with the penitence of a Bible-fearing man. If this EP is any indication of where Iron and Wine is headed, we have much to be excited about. This country boy should be proud.
[I guess being a self-professed country boy explains Matt Cappiello’s penchant for rye whiskey, chewing tobacco and overalls.]