After nearly 20 years of being on the forefront of modern American folk music, Iron and Wine brings us back to the beginning with ‘Archive Series Volume No.5: Tallahassee Recordings.’
The so-called “lost” album is comprised of recordings made in the late ‘90s while Iron and Wine (Sam Beam) was at college, three years before the release of his acclaimed debut album ‘The Creek Drank the Cradle’.
‘Tallahassee’ provides insight into the foundation of one of America’s most prolific singer-songwriters. Throughout the album it is evident that the creative staples of Iron and Wine were already beginning to form in these recordings. This album chronicles Beam’s early steps towards becoming the artist he is today.
It’s no surprise that Beam attended Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts. The cinematic quality of his music is the tell-tale sign of an artist with a strong, visual imagination. Even in these early recordings he ingrains beautiful and vivid scenes into this music.
Calm on the Valley’s striking imagery transports the listener to the simple life in rural America. The lyrics describe the landscape viscerally to the point that you can hear “the sound the sitting sun makes as it lights up the lake and goes down.” The slow, meandering tempo of the acoustic guitar accompaniment resembles the tranquil landscape and helps set the scene.
Such evocative lyrics also capture colourful characters, John’s Glass Eye. In just over one-and-a-half minutes, Iron and Wine perfectly paints John’s imperfections vividly over slide guitar licks. A man who lost his eye when his wife shot him after catching him with another woman. The story is comically tragic and Iron and Wine’s dry vocals add to telling of it, showing that even in the dawn of his career, he embraced the storytelling foundations of folk music.
Why Hate the Winter, showcases Iron and Wine’s ability to hook listeners through a distinct sense of emotion and intimacy. The muted acoustic guitar strums paired with whispered vocals convey a sense of delicateness as he sings about the fragility of love, with lyrics such as “Don’t offer me love because I’m not the one who should take it.”
Similarly, Show Him the Ground brings a sense of intimacy to the foreground. A stripped back acoustic guitar and hushed vocals deliver a devastating sense of betrayal as Iron and Wine ponders whether revenge is really the best remedy.
In contrast to the delicate emotions seen in many of the tracks on this album, Straight and Tall provides biting criticism as Iron and Wine calls out the façade someone has created for themselves. With scathing lyrics like “Don’t tell me all the shit you’ve done, how you push your luck with everyone” the song is bitter, yet the soft accompaniment curbs the harshness of the song, resulting in a more cathartic experience.
Tallahassee Recordings shows us the roots of a singer-songwriter that has carried the folk music scene in recent years. With rich storytelling and an array of emotive tracks, these recordings are a perfect addition to Iron and Wine’s already impressive catalogue.