Sam Beam – mastermind behind the success of Iron & Wine – continues to take his music in new directions with the release of Love Letter For Fire. This collaborative effort with the experimental folk-blues-pop energy of Jesca Hoop is sure to be a high-ranking surprise on the list of 2016’s best folk albums. As the album begins, listeners may feel that they’re entering the world of an Imogen Heap song. Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop possess the natural connection it takes to sing beautiful harmony. The chemistry is immediately present, even in the short-lived Welcome To Feeling, which is a perfect example of their flawless, succinct musical energy.
Track number two One Way To Pray is a major highlight on this gorgeous record. Similar to classic, soft acoustic Iron & Wine songs, One Way To Pray glows with towering harmonies and the perfect rainy day guitar progression that makes you want to stay snug under the covers all day. Sam Beam has a firm grasp on creating penetrable, relatable and insightful song lyrics and the music that complements them is nothing short of stellar. “We’re alive under thunder clouds taking hymns out of mother’s mouths. Swimming out to the incoming waves that’s one way to pray.”
We Two Are A Moon, song number four, contains the lyrics from where Sam and Jesca created the title of their thirteen song collaborative project. “This song is a love letter to toss into the fire. Wind comes in the window, faces carve into the hearth.” The fingerpicking and overall rhythm on this tune will sound slightly out of the ordinary for true Iron & Wine fans.
And if those true Iron & Wine fans pay close attention to the track list order of the last few records, then they’ll notice Sam is placing stronger, more memorable songs (Half Moon on Kiss Each Other Clean and Grace For Saints And Ramblers on Ghost On Ghost) at number five. And not only does the streak continue for Love Letter For Fire but Midas Tongue is currently my favourite Sam Beam song ever. Listeners are locked into a rainforest-esque musical mood as “The devil (makes) the water warm” in the opening line of the song. From the first word of the chorus there is an immediate, brain-frying, musical revelation moment and the blend of Sam and Jesca’s harmony makes the song that much more noteworthy. “Haaaaaaaaaaaaloooooos and the night falls free. Falling not for you and me.” The tempo and vibes on this track may make listeners feel that this song was in the works for the third Iron & Wine album Resurrection Fern.
Bright Lights And Goodbyes is another favourite of mine from this project. Sam Beam was blessed with the power to create a fireside, unwinding peaceful atmosphere within the world of his stunningly intimate songs. Track number eight on this record stands out in Sam’s full repertoire of genius songwriting because of extra-attentive vocal practice and volume control. The Hoop and Beam collaboration is surely to be a widespread discussed musical topic of 2016 because of their natural ability to create towering, tightly rehearsed harmonies.
The last two highlights on the record are Chalk It Up To Chi and Sailor To Siren. Two very different songs, the first with immense experimental, folk/pop vibes, and the second an instant grabber for true fans of the beautiful, calming Sam Beam formula we all know and love. Love Letter For Fire is a folk masterpiece and will be on my list at the end of the year when we publish our Favourites of 2016.
Scott J. Herman