By Allison Babka
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By Drew Ailes
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Where Fruit Bats will place these tender moments in a shiny pop frame, Iron & Wine's Sam Beam requires a close ear to pull the beauty from the grain of his songcraft. Beam is the man behind the band, and on its two releases (last year's Creek Drank the Cradle and the recent EP The Sea and the Rhythm) he is the only performer listed. Both were recorded on a four-track in his Miami bedroom, though on tour he often enlists some help to flesh out the sparse, resonating sound.
Of the two bands, Iron & Wine falls more easily in the folk camp. The songs are arranged for guitar and banjo, and Beam sports one of those aforementioned folkie beards. As a result he looks, and often enough sounds, like Will Oldham, though his songs are strong enough to stand alone without comparison. When asked about the folk leanings in his music, he is cautious not to put a tag on it.
"People ask what kind of music it is and I don't know how to answer. There are definitely folk elements because of the instrumentation. I don't approach a song and say, 'now I'll make a folk song.' It's rock the only way I know how," says Beam.
In many ways, Sam Beam is simultaneously the ultimate folk hero and the anti-rock star. He teaches film studies at Miami International University when he isn't on tour, and he's more content to sit at home with his wife and family than to conquer America one rock club at a time. "I just write my little tunes and baby-sit my kids. I don't think about the identity of my band too much."
While film is a major love of his, Beam's songs don't have the cinematic scope that might be expected. His songs have a finite feel to them, like you're hearing a snapshot rather than a short film. "I approach it like poems; there's a visual, tactile part to it, but there's an emotional part to it," explains Beam.
Beam revisits many of his favorite themes between his two records. The title track to The Sea and The Rhythm explores the ocean and its push and pull, and how that expresses itself in two lovers on the beach: "Your hands they move like waves over me/Beneath the moon, tonight, we're the sea." Beautiful stuff, though Beam explains his oceanic fascination a bit less gallantly. "That came from a poem that my wife wrote, and she had that line about the sea and the rhythm. It's sort of a metaphor for fucking, really," he says.
When Iron & Wine and Fruit Bats embark on this tour, it will be a reunion of sorts. Iron & Wine's first national tour was in support of Califone, the Chicago-based deconstructionists of which Eric Johnson was a member. Beam describes Johnson and his partner thusly: "He's got great fashion sense. They rock it up a bit more than we do at times. But acoustic instrumentation makes it a good bill."