Sam Beam, recording and performing under the handle Iron & Wine, has always worn the mantle of troubadour more earnestly than most musicians. Even in the realm of folk music, this Austin-based artists' commitment to lyrical splendor shines in everything he generates. Like his previous two albums, as well as a handful of EPs and collaborations, Iron & Wine hones an electrified, folk-infused jam on its newest release, Shepherd's Dog. Gemmy lines — Our tender bellies all wound around in bailing wire and Give me a juggernaut heart and a Japanese car, for instance — abound.
Evolving, as good artists must, Beam gleefully arcs forward along a trajectory he launched with Woman King (2005), moving via the same fidelity and urgency he experimented with on that album. Jauntily, he spins us with driving numbers like "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car," or waltzes into nostalgic glory on tunes like "Flightless Bird, American Mouth." Sandwiched in between, the troubadour spices the soup with techno-tinged (only tinged, really) and acoustic treats alike. Through it all, Beam remains a master at offering up the heartbreaking and the playful simultaneously. If it sounds eclectic, that doesn't mean it's not unified. Shepherd's Dog is Beam's best effort yet, proliferating and augmenting an oeuvre that already trembles with quiet — but ferocious — vitality.
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