Iron and Wine - Around the Well (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Iron and Wine

Around the Well (2009)

Sub Pop

Iron and Wine, né Sam Beam, has really only been releasing records since 2002, yet Around the Well oddly seems overdue. Beam's only issued three studio albums, but countless singles, EPs and film contributions have been dropped between and among album release dates. Much of it is collected for this monolithic compilation, a two-disc set that spans over an hour and a half of pensive, hushed folk that, while should grow tiring, remains starkly gratifying and just magnetic enough during its duration.

Just about all of the tracks on Disc 1 carry that quasi-lo-fi approach present on much of Beam's discography, putting a pictorial emphasis on his warm acoustic strokes and breathy carry-along voice, while occasional frills -- backing female "ooh"s, an adjoining twangy guitar -- spice the proceedings up. You can practically hear the tape running in deliberate, earthy hummers like "Loud as Hope" and "Friends They Are Jewels," while the chords just flutter impressively for their take on the Flaming Lips' "Waitin' for a Superman." Of course, the highlight everyone wants to hear is here, too -- Beam's incredibly restrained cover of the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights," filled with extravagant hushes and a chorus delivered so deliberately it could be Beam's soundtrack to brain surgery. That's a good thing, mind you.

Disc 2 is a little longer -- perhaps due to nine-and-a-half-minute closer "The Trapeze Swinger" -- and with its songs a little stronger in the production department. Beam's voice reverberates stronger and the strings are pricked and plucked with crisper consistency. More auxiliary additives come in the upbeat "Belated Promise Ring," with a piano-plinked bridge, and the shaker in "God Made the Automobile" pushes it along at a fine clip. One of the most hook-filled endeavors comes in "Carried Home," repetitive enough to stick well and employed with off-kilter programming blips. Subtle dynamics pervert "Kingdom of the Animals" nicely.

Granted, there are a handful of moments on Around the Well that simply beg for at least a hint of disquiet. And while it's surprisingly one-sided for an odds 'n sods collection, Iron and Wine's Around the Well is still a perfectly pleasant assortment of tracks that should more than tide over fans waiting on the proper followup to 2007's acclaimed The Shepherd's Dog.

Belated Promise Ring