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Sam Beam's venturesome The Shepherd's Dog

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Iron & Wine
The Shepherd's Dog
Sub Pop Records
Release Date: 09/25/2007

Iron & Wine, Sam Beam's moniker, is one of those prolific songwriters that can pump out album after album of, for the most part, flawless tunes. I'd like to think that he just wakes up one day, arbitrarily decides to go into the studio, and then effortlessly bangs them out. On The Shepherd's Dog, Iron & Wine consciously explores a variety of sounds, deviating from the minimal lullaby style of Our Endless Numbered Days. I can't say it sounds as though Beam simply popped out these meticulously crafted songs.

"Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" opens the album, demonstrating a buoyant, transformed Iron and Wine. Repetitious jazz-piano wanders aimlessly, punctuated by reversing sitar-like guitars, and Beam exhibits his lyrical genius: "Now was a promise made of smoke in a frozen coax of dreams." This song justly represents the sonic harbinger of what's to come on The Shepherd's Dog. What an outstanding opening track.

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"White Tooth Man" begins with reverberating sitars and plays out like a psychedelic version of one of their previous porch-style jams, like "Teeth In The Grass" on Our Endless Numbered Days. We see a massive, almost Wilco-like deviation in "Love Song of the Buzzard," incorporating feel-good organ with bluesy slide-guitar. This song fits right into a laid back summer soundtrack because of the heartwarming results.

"Carousel" is a dreamy excursion through the minimal instrumentation and vacillating vocals of Sam Beam. This song exudes the cradle song style which put Iron & Wine on the map. "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)" is a joint effort between Iron & Wine and Calexico. The purely instrumental breaks recall the collaborative jam-band like efforts between both artists displayed previously on In The Reins.

Finally, the clap-heavy single "Boy with a Coin" brings us back to Iron & Wine's folk roots. With clapping overpowering drums, "Boy with a Coin" focuses upon the raspy, layered harmonies of Beam. I can't help but think of Devendra Banhart & Jana Hunter's "A Bright-Ass Light," just a lot less obscured.

If you weren't a huge fan of Iron & Wine prior to this, then I can almost guarantee you'll find something to your liking on this eclectic record. The Shepherd's Dog is an up-beat, mind-expanding peregrination, similar to what Beam must have experienced in writing it.

Although in an interview with Billboard, Beam is quick to retrospectively recognize the expansive yet still sluggish evolution of his records: "I'm already working on the next one. A lot of them, you think you're on the right track, but when it comes time to record, they don't seem different enough." He still manages to maintain a delicate equilibrium between modesty and musical genius that commands and necessitates respect. In all fairness, The Shepherd's Dog is a considerable progression in Sam Beam's wondrous oeuvre.