Album Review: Iron & Wine – Archive Series No: 5 Tallahassee

The story goes that Iron & Wine’s first LP The Creek Drank The Cradle was carefully selected from a repertoire of over thirty songs. Now, nearly twenty years later, the actual “lost in time debut” will see the light of day. After quite a bit of dusting and some modern day studio boosting of these lo fi demos, another 11 songs have been unleashed from the archive and see a proper release.

Archive Series No: 5 Tallahassee Recordings begins with ‘Why Hate Winter’ – a dark, eerie world where acoustic guitar progressions accompany hauntingly beautiful vocal melody and low-pitched, whispering harmonies. A constant hiss is present throughout all of these remastered lo-fi recordings, which adds to the mellow vibe of the album.

If the hiss doesn’t give away the time period, Sam Beam’s fingerpicking, pluck-and-go style definitely will. ‘This Solemn Day’ has a very similar acoustic picking and strumming style as Archive Series Volume 1 track ‘The Wind Is Low’.

The song ‘Elizabeth’ is the stand out track for me on this album.  When I first heard it, I had to start over immediately because I couldn’t tell if the snare drum keeping rhythm in the background faded out once Beam’s strumming took over, or the snare continued along with Beam’s strumming. I was fascinated by Beam’s percussive guitar ability to mirror the exact snare sound that was recorded. Even now after listening several times this detail seems up for debate.

After the release of Beam’s third LP The Shepherd’s Dog, Iron & Wine aficionados became wary of the added instrumentation and studio effects that seeped its way into his recording artist style. By Kiss Each Other Clean they developed apathy and after Ghost On Ghost they completely gave up. However, the record in between The Shepherd’s Dog and the two poppy, overly-computerized releases was Around The Well. This compilation of out-of-print and unreleased Creek era songs gave fans a taste of what was to come on this most recent Archive Series release. Although Beam’s new records have been tragic disappointments, the continued surfacing of early, lo-fi quality Iron & Wine material is a breath of fresh air.

Hopefully this isn’t the last installment of the Archive Series, and Beam will continue to grace us with the songs we really want to hear.

Scott J. Herman

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