It’s been a short two years since singer songwriter Sam Beam released an album under the pen Iron and Wine. Beam’s fifth studio release, Ghost on Ghost is not a drastic change of sound from what can be expected of Iron and Wine. What it is, is Beam taking a step back and creating an album with more jazz influences and a relaxed pace, something his previous two albums lacked.
Opening with an eclectic mix of drums and guitar, “Caught in the Briars” kicks the album off. The track is littered with saxophones, chimes, and of course, that acoustic sound Beam is well known for. What helps the transition to the next track “The Desert Babbler” is the continuation of the back-up crooners sighing their “ohh’s” in our ears. Smooth is the first word that comes to mind to describe this head bopping tune.
The inclusion of jazz beats and instruments is what keeps the flow from track to track feeling so natural and pulls the entire album together. From saxophones to trumpets to cymbals to shakers, it is clear Beam was trying to create a luscious bluesy overture for the album. From the soft rattling cymbals on “Joy” to the tinkling piano and saxophone solo on “Low Light Buddy of Mine,” there is no escaping the urge to tap your foot while possibly sporting a fedora and black rimmed Wayfarers.
The pace of the album picks up with the shoulder swaying tune “Grace for Saints and Ramblers,” from which the album’s title comes. Beam keeps listeners on their toes by constantly changing pace like he does with the slow and low “Grass Widows.” Following that is “Singers and the Endless Song” where the lyrics make a throwback reference to the first track with the line “when we all ran back into the briars” harkening on the message introduced in “Caught in the Briars.” In “Sundown (Back in the Briars),” Beam uses an exact replication of a line from the first track. A bongo beat, reminiscent of that from the opening of the album, trails into “Winter Prayers” which slows the pace of the album until “New Mexico’s No Breeze” picks your spirits right back up with shakers and piano solos sending the listener on a vacation to some beach resort to sit at the poolside bar and soak up some sun.
For the final two tracks, Beam really plays up the jazz influence to deliver the highlights of the album. “Lovers’ Revolution” prominently features a heavy bass line and saxophonists that makes it impossible not to picture a darkly lit, smoke filled café where everyone is wearing black, tapping their toes, and snapping their fingers in approval. On album closer “Baby Center Stage,” Beam gets the chance to showcase his vocal talents hitting those highs and lows in his note range until finally we hear the saxophones, piano, trumpets, and cymbals all coming together in harmony to sway our way into a peaceful existence.
While Ghost on Ghost builds further onto the pop sounds Beam began exploring on his 2011 release Kiss Each Other Clean, it is also a clear example of how far he has come. His career started with the release of albums he wrote, performed, and recorded on his own and has escalated to the point where he is able to create songs layered with a wider variety of instruments. Incorporating new influences is proving to be the right step for Beam and the continued success of Iron and Wine.