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The Long Way Around - Feature from Issue #50 March-April 2004

Iron & Wine

A life of quiet inspirationSam Beam's fever dreams turn wood & wire into Iron & Wine

Sam Beam makes morning music. Recording under the name Iron & Wine, he’s fashioned a somewhat haphazard yet coherent discography, any assemblage of which can hold its own with a rise-and-shine classic such as Charlie Parker With Strings, or Doc & Merle Watson’s Two Days In November. His oeuvre won’t send you on an odyssey through the big-eyed solicitors outside the corner store in hopes of organizing a reunion tour with Old Milwaukee and the Tallboys; it might sooner inspire you to sober up and settle down, perhaps even, as one of Mississippi writer Barry Hannah’s characters once aspired, to “quit fucking around and be a Christian.”

Beam’s 2002 debut LP, The Creek Drank The Cradle, opened with a reference to morning’s “rusty gears,” a metaphor that work- and alcoholics can readily fathom. The album is commonly referred to as a masterwork of whisper-folk, the kind of platter you can spin without waking the house’s remaining droolers on those dawns when you’re the first sod out of bed and you just know that NPR is going to piss you off. That opening song also contains a very un-hell-raising notion: “We gladly run in circles/But the shape we meant to make is gone.” A confession of mundaneness yanking the steering column out of someone’s hands? How can such sentiment kick off an album on Sub Pop, the label Nirvana broke?

Well, Sub Pop has softened significantly; its current flagship would probably be the coo-able, barely American dream-pop of Albuquerque’s the Shins. Meanwhile the Fruit Bats write lite pastoralia, Beachwood Sparks aim to outstone the Byrds, and even Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock has embarked on a banjo-and-barebones solo trip. The Seattle label has taken steps toward southern-ification, signing Texas yahoos the Baptist Generals and mid-Florida porch-poets Holopaw. Iron & Wine remains the roster’s most “rustic” item, however, what with Beam’s slide overdubs and lo-fi production conjuring the textures of Depression-era 78s.

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This is an excerpt of the article which appeared in The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music, which features 25 of the finest articles from the magazine’s back issues, and was published in 2005 by University of Texas Press to help celebrate the magazine’s 10th anniversary. Due to our agreement with UT Press we are unable to include this article in our online archive.

The Best of No Depression is the only place you can find these articles other than our back issues. Visit the No Depression store to buy your copy for only $10.

The 300-page volume includes co-editor Grant Alden’s award-winning 2001 feature on Billy Joe Shaver, co-editor Peter Blackstock’s 1998 “Artist of the Decade” piece on Alejandro Escovedo, senior editor Bill Friskics-Warren’s 2002 cover story on Johnny Cash, contributing editor Paul Cantin’s deep exploration of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco; and many other high points from our print heyday.

Table of contents for The Best of No Depression:
• Preface, by Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock
• Los Lobos, by Geoffrey Himes
• Alejandro Escovedo, by Peter Blackstock
• Jon Dee Graham, by Peter Blackstock
• Billy Joe Shaver, by Grant Alden
• Ray Wylie Hubbard, by John T. Davis
• Flatlanders, by Don McLeese
• Ray Price, by David Cantwell
• Johnny Gimble, by Bill C. Malone
• Johnny Cash, by Bill Friskics-Warren
• Rosanne Cash, by Lloyd Sachs
• Lucinda Williams, by Silas House
• Buddy & Julie Miller, by Bill Friskics-Warren
• Kasey Chambers, by Geoffrey Himes
• Loretta Lynn, by Barry Mazor
• Patty Loveless, by Bill Friskics-Warren
• Kieran Kane, by Peter Cooper
• Paul Burch, by Jim Ridley
• Hazel Dickens, by Bill Friskics-Warren
• Gillian Welch, by Grant Alden
• Ryan Adams, by David Menconi
• Jay Farrar, by Peter Blackstock
• Jayhawks, by Erik Flannigan
• Wilco, by Paul Cantin
• Drive-By Truckers, by Grant Alden
• Iron & Wine, by William Bowers

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Originally Featured in Issue #50 March-April 2004

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