Monday, 27 July 2009

Iron & Wine - Around The Well (Sub Pop)

The concept of 'rarities' in music is one that is often spoken about. The word can mean one of many things, of course. You have legendary lost recordings (Guy in the bar that told me he had a copy of Brian Wilson's 'Fire' - I'm looking at you), posthumous releases from those infamous and seemingly endless 'vaults' and those unintended leaks of not-for-public-consumption material. Yet, it is the official release that find the most curious. In fact, one could argue that rarities (particularly in the case of b-sides, bonus tracks and country specific releases) don't really exist anymore. I mean, this damn internet has blown acquiring and listening to music wide open and with downloading (both legal and illegal) and streaming services like the fantastic Spotify connecting more people with more music than ever, is that hard to find b-side that was only ever released in Japan on yellow 7" vinyl really that hard to find anymore? Rarities are no longer in dusty end of rack bins and music geeks dorms but more keystrokes away on search engines and shared playlists. You no longer have to dig and dig to find the treasure because that is all done for you. Yet, the same million dollar question still remains: is the treasure worth finding?

My point, in a roundabout way of course, is that for collections (and it is a collection) like 'Around The Well' to work, the quality of the material included has to be top notch because otherwise, these releases can be little more than completely dispensible stop gaps or just plain old coffer swellers and in the music world, we have enough of that, believe me.

This, thankfully, is different. Sam Beam and Iron & Wine are on a roll. No two ways about it. He had me from the off with those lo-fi whispers on 'The Sea & The Rhythm' and his growth as a lyricist and his realisation of the fuller sound we find him at now have been an absolute joy to behold. Like most things in life, the journey is often more enjoyable, nay memorable than the final destination and it is here that 'Around The Well' pays dividends - with the journey. Clever chronological sequencing follows Beam from the start and the structure and feel of the songs reflect this accordingly. 'Dearest Forsaken' rolls the disc off with its dusty delivery and lolling picked guitar line sounding like it is a hand picked favourite from your old friend 'The Creek Drank The Cradle' and from here, we, much like Sam Beam, never look back.

There really is something for all I&W fans on 'Around The Well'. Particularly if, like me, you like them most where they are right now with the sound they cultivated with a little hand from Calexico on 'In The Reins' and fully realised on 2007s stunning 'The Shepherd's Dog'. A quite brilliant second half, started by the I&W take on The Postal Service's hipster love song du jour 'Such Great Heights' could act as a standalone companion piece to 'The Shepherd's Dog' and I'd happily shellout for it. Wayne Coyne will be smarting at how Beam nailed the melody on 'Waitin For a Superman' bettee than he ever did and I'm pretty sure there's no one else in the game who could write a song like 'The Trapeze Swinger' in all of its 9:31 glory and not have it overstay its welcome by a single second. It is songs like '...Trapeze..' and highlight 'Belated Promise Ring' that set Beam apart from his contemporaries and makes you think that when 'rarities' collections are this gratifying, there definitely is a place for them.

'Around The Well' charters the journey of one of the finest American songwriters of the modern era in a complete and fascinating way that leaves you thinking one thing: Damn. When is that new Iron & Wine LP out?

Now, where was that extended Jeff Buckley rarities and outtakes disc I've been meaning to listen to..

Saturday, 25 July 2009

'Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus' - An Andrew Douglas Documentary

"...stories were everything and everything was stories."

So I spent the unholy hours of the early morning watching 'Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus' (nice website for the film right here.) which is essentially a guided tour of the dirty south and what it means, once meant and will never mean from the most well versed of tour guides, Mr Jim White.

First then, Jim White. Calling him a singer/songwriter is doing the guy a complete disservice. Jason Mraz is a singer/songwriter. That ginger bloke that never has a bath is a singer/songwriter*. James Blunt is a singer/songwriter. What i'm trying to say is that term no longer conjures up images of Guthrie, Dylan and Cohen does it? I'm rambling here. Jim White makes extremely interesting music that is rooted in alternative country leanings but he definitely isn't afraid of experimentation. Musically, lyrically and everything else-ally. They're as quotable as they are hummable and that's a rare talent.

'Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus' is joyous in the way it intersperses often surreal narratives with pop up surprise perfomances from a stellar array of musicans that just fit the feel of the film and the air of the south like a tailored glove. The Handsome Family, 16 Horsepower, Gospel churches. All the good stuff is here and it's often interwoven with tales as tall and as old as the hills. You get the ancient banjo player who only started playing when his Pa's arms were blown off by a stick of dynamite down the mine. You get the girl who saw a guy possessed by the Devil with her own eyes. Sin, redemption, life, death. It's the kinda things the South (and more particularly music from that geographical location) has always dealt with in such a unique and engaging manner and the mythology, narratives and discourse that i'm just a damn sucker for.

White hangs the thing together so well and Andrew Douglas' production is beautifully structured and set. For me though, it's the pace of the film and how it is so crucially on the money that makes 'Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus' such a compelling watch. Well, that and the fact that the subject(s) included are as memorable as the stories, songs and lives the place has been home to.

This great scene below sums up the film well I think. Starring Harry Crews (just made for a documentary like this), a nice little performance from White of his own 'The Wound That Never Heals' taken from the fantastic 'No Such Place' (Luaka Bop:2001) and a grieving mother amongst other things. "Lookin' for the gold tooth in God's crooked smile..." indeed.

*Newton Faulkner. Thanks Uncle Google. Just full of useful information.

Friday, 17 July 2009


Yeah, so it's been a long time coming, I admit it. Some things you just know are going to happen. Me setting up a blog being one example. The marriage and the subsequent divorce, the football and the greenhouse. Just always going to happen. It seems that at some point or another, everyone finds themselves at the mercy of an unbearable desire to unleash a whole torrent of trash on the world via your very own personal blog and so here is mine. Hey internet? Consider some more of your bandwidth wasted. Sucker.

So...a new blog, a new start, a new me. It's like a new year, aside from the July thing. I always thought that January was for haters and losers either way. Whilst we are talking of new year, Imma hit you up with a great song about new year that ISN'T by Death Cab. Phew.

"You took your sweet time..." Yes I did The Walkmen but my blog is here now, dry your eyes.

The Walkmen - In The New Year