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Album review: Iron & Wine uses smooth, old-school jazz sound on ‘Ghost on Ghost’

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Sam Beam, better known as his act Iron & Wine, was once the bearded glory of stripped-down music, the advocate for all things acoustic and melancholy – but not anymore. Since his debut in 2002 with “The Creek Drank The Cradle,” he has been slowly changing his style with each new album. 

“Ghost on Ghost,” which released Tuesday, is his venture into old-school jazz. It’s the kind of jazz you would expect to hear in a smoke-filled bar, far from his early acoustic days. 

Fast-forward the album to track 11. “Lovers’ Revolution” is essentially what the album entails. Beam’s honey-sweet vocals. Piano ballad. Cue the brass section. Underlying, backing female vocals. 

Iron & Wine’s album layers on different sections of music for a smooth jazz style. It has a lounge-esque feel. Grab a martini and nod your head along with the snappy, plucked upright bass. Enjoy the brass instrumentals that take over partway through the songs. 

Through “Ghost on Ghost” there are small nuggets of Beam’s early style. “Winter Prayers” and “Joy” strip out a majority of the instrumentals that take over the other tracks. Instead, the vocals are the main aspect, and the subtle instrumentals fade into the background of the song. Beam’s voice is overpowering, that’s why his first album gained him so much attention. Iron & Wine never needed anything other than Beam’s vocals, and the select tracks where he falls back into his original style are a treat. “Winter Prayers” takes on the melancholy tone that made everyone fall in love with Iron & Wine and Beam’s somber voice. 

“Low Light Buddy of Mine” opens with a tapping drum and then a bass line. A deep and eerie sound comes over the song, and a brass section comes in at the tail end of the track, solidifying the song as distinctly jazzier than the previous “Joy.” 

While the jazz style might not be what his fans wanted, Beam does it well. “New Mexico’s No Breeze” sounds like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” It has a distinctly ’70s feel to it. 

“Ghost on Ghost” is old-school jazz paired with Iron & Wine’s classic smooth vocals. Unfortunately, he did not include much of his stripped-down, bare-bones songs that Iron & Wine fans have come to love and associate with his music. 

 

Grade: B-

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