I've been obsessing on the Iron & Wine EP, Woman King, for well over a month or so now. Let me share.
When Nick Cave appears in Wings of Desire, his thoughts are heard in the black and white of the eavesdropping angels’ minds: "One more song and it's over. But I'm not gonna tell you about a girl, I'm not gonna tell you about a girl." Then it cuts to him in color, real life, onstage saying: "I wanna tell you about a girl."
This is applicable to Sam Beam’s Iron & Wine because he and Cave share songwriting similarities, except that Mr. Beam isn’t quite as heavy handed about it. Both enjoy biblical as well as the southern gothic imagery and both have a habit of singing about girls. Considering that the latest offering from the prolific Beam is called Woman King, we can safely assume that every song is about a girl. And they are: the fighter, the lover, the saint, the betrayer.
Iron & Wine has steadily developed with each release, starting with his delicately insular basement tape debut to a less lo-fi sound, yet still intimate. This, while very produced, loses none of that intimacy. The production, in fact, adds to the sound. The opening title track is a barnstomper of a song praising the glory of woman: “Someday we may see a woman king, sword in hand, swing at some evil and bleed.” Very Xena, Warrior Princess. “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven” conjures up images of the Mary and Child wandering through swamps while funkily toe tapping along to the picking of a banjo. Sister Sarah Beam returns for some angelic back up singing, while the additions of violins and pianos further flesh out the soundscapes. The real revelation here is the closer, “Evening on the Ground (Lilith’s Song).” Lilith was supposedly the first wife of Adam, cast out for not being subservient to him and replaced by Eve, and became the symbol of promiscuity and disobedience. The song sounds like a storm in the garden, punctuated by lines like “we were born to fuck each other one way or another” while (finally?) introducing the lightening like zing of the electric guitar to the Iron & Wine repertoire. And it works – man, does it work.
Geek out over for now - back to your regularly scheduled programming.