Rarities albums often do not appeal to wide audiences. They are typically attractive to an artist’s longtime fans who want to delve into the musical annals of their admired musician. Sometimes, an artist simply decides to exclude tracks from a major release because they slightly prefer some of their other work, or because they think that audiences will prefer easier-to-understand tracks.
When it comes to Iron & Wine’s new rarities album, neither newcomers nor longtime fans need fear for the quality of his music. Released this February, Archive Series Volume No. 1 contains demos and home recordings from 2002-2003. It was at this time that Sam Beam (I&W’s sole performer) recorded The Creek Drank the Cradle and The Sea & The Rhythm, two of his oldest and most acclaimed releases. For those who already love Beam’s inquisitive, reflective approach to folk music, in particular the minimalist folk that launched his journey, returning to his older days presents a great opportunity to experience I&W in a brand new way. For new listeners, there is perhaps no album that more characteristically represents this artist’s particular style.
Iron & Wine relies on an emotionally open form of storytelling in his music, capturing life experiences from moment to moment while contemplating significance and relationships as they unfold. His earliest recordings, like those found on The Creek Drank the Cradle, are some of his rawest and most signature marks on the folk/Americana style. Archive Series taps into that same feeling of authentic artistry. Although it does not sound as emotionally focused as Our Endless Numbered Days or some of his other more seasoned works, this 18-track collection is both intellectually engaging and demonstrative of Beam’s immense talent as a musician. Even in his earliest days, his music reflects his remarkable ability to see life from a philosophical perspective, neither as an outsider nor as one fully at home in his own skin.
At live shows, Beam makes a special effort to connect with his audience through humor and relatable commentary, reminding us that he is just a human being trying to make enjoyable music for his fans. By releasing this compilation over a decade after its inception, he is inviting us as fellow music lovers to journey back into his past and directly compare his origins with where he is now. Anyone willing to take the time will doubtlessly benefit from this welcome expansion to our expectations about singer-songwriters and their ability to open themselves in the face of a wide alien world.