Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog

Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car sets the tone, which is a good thing because its the first track on the album

Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car sets the tone, which is a good thing because its the first track on the album

Sam Beam returns, thanks to a little help from his sister and friends, with this, his third full length album and guess what? He’s gone funky. Ok, so I’m lying, but if I said it sounds similar in vein to Love in Veins, the EP by Iron & Wine and Calexico, than it is to the two earlier Iron & Wine albums, then you’ll realise that this has more of a tempo than his earlier records. Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car sets the tone, which is a good thing because it’s the first track on the album, and it hops, jumps and skips around a catchy little guitar line like a rabbit in heat. White Tooth Man bounds along with what sounds like war drums in the background and from there on the album just attacks your central nervous system with tribal rhythms, layers and layers of scything guitars and, of course, that voice. That distant whisper, like the voice of God, commanding you to attention with seemingly little effort. Jesus, this guy is good.


The Shepherd’s Dog is a hard album to unravel. It feels confused, but in a good way. How do I describe this? You know when you’ve had an argument with someone — pick a loved one, they’re always more passionate — and then, as soon as the argument breaks, your head’s just a mess. Your anger level is lowering, but then you get pangs of guilt at what you may have just said that was out of order and your head just swims with a range of emotions and you need to take a minute or two to collect yourself again, to calm down and to make sense of the world again. The Shepherd’s Dog feels like being in that state of mind for 50 minutes.


It also sounds like it was a joy to play on. You can really hear Sam and his cohorts having fun here. His previous albums were as close to perfection as you can get with one man and his guitar, but that EP with Calexico assured me that there was more than one string to his bow. With The Shepherd’s Dog, Sam Beam has pushed himself somewhat. It still sounds very much like Iron and Wine, that whispering voice dominating all once again and although I say this is up tempo, it rarely gets up past a trot. Compared to his earlier work though, this is fuller, more vibrant and more colourful.


Lyrically it’s very strong too, and although he paints some pretty vague pictures every now and again you’ll still fall in love with some of the lines on this album, "Love was a promise made of smoke in a frozen copse of trees," "Yesterday, the solace of a poison fish / Tomorrow I’ll be kissing on her blood red lips" and "There ain’t a penthouse Christian wants the pain of the scab but they all want the scar," being only three examples.


This is a fascinating, intoxicating record. Give it some time and space and let it wash over you. Before you know it, it’ll get deep underneath your pores and, without even realising it, you’ll have fallen in love all over again.


Words : Damian Leslie