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..