Friday, July 2, 2010

Mike's 1000: Entry #1

For the most part, I think the "1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die" got it right. I can't say much about the classical, opera, R&B, gospel, but as far as rock and blues, which I know a bit about, I think Tom Moon made some great picks. I do have a couple of nitpicky problems with the list, though (6 Beatles albums? Godsmack?) and I've decided that every 25 entries I am going to do an entry about a recording I think should have made the cut (plus I am working my way through my first box set, so the next post may be awhile).

Artist: Iron & Wine
Album: The Creek Drank the Cradle
I'm really surprised this one didn't make it on the list. Tom included indie darlings The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Neko Case, Bright Eyes, Belle & Sebastian, and the Arcade Fire, but he missed Sam Beam's project that really gave weight to self-produced "bedroom" folk. Beam, otherwise known as "Iron & Wine," was working as a college professor when he was discovered playing live by an exec from Sub Pop who requested a demo. As the story goes Beam sent 2 full CDs worth of hushed guitar and banjo folk he recorded in his home studio, and the label plucked their favorites and released them "as is" (the B-sides can be found on the excellent 2 disc collection "Around the Well").
Beam's voice barely whispers his haunting, religious-imagery-filled lyrics over supremely played fingerpicked and slide guitar and the occasional banjo. Besides this instrumentation and Beam's own backing vocals there are no other additions. Songs like "Lion's Mane," with its brooding lyrics on the meaning of love over a sublime guitar part and the southern folk inspired "The Rooster Moans" which has a steady, railroad train rhythm perfectly highlight how Beam can take a simple concept and turn it into a masterpiece.
There isn't a weak track on this album, and its release foreshadowed the direction folk music was heading (see acts like Bon Iver, Department of Eagles, and Fleet Foxes as examples of bands building on Beam's steam) in the early 2000's. Beam followed up with "Our Endless Numbered Days," on which he added drums and backing vocals from his sister, and his third outing, "The Shepherd's Dog," (which charted at #24) filled out the rest of his sound with electric guitars and horns. But this original recording by Iron & Wine, in its simple, understated form, is worth taking a look at, and listening closely to. As minimalist as it seems at first, repeated listenings reveal powerful, deep lyrics and perfectly matched music.

Buy The Creek Drank the Cradle at Amazon

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