Much will be made of the fact that Iron & Wine's latest record for Sub Pop, Our Endless Numbered Days, was recorded in a real studio (Chicago's Engine Studios) with a real producer (Brian Deck, whose credits include the Sea and Cake, Lois and Modest Mouse, among others). But don't let that distract you from this beautiful album: At bottom, this is Sam Beam's shimmering bedroom gem. There may be more instrumentation, and the banjo strings may shine a little more, but it still sounds as if Beam is whispering his cinematic tales directly into your ear.
Our Endless Numbered Days is a very intimate record indeed, but Beam has also broadened his horizons significantly this time out. In addition to his trademark melancholy guitar numbers that evoke an Appalachian Nick Drake ("Naked as We Came") and his gorgeous lullabies ("Radio War"), there are also some boogying blues numbers, such as the good-time "Teeth in the Grass" and the haunting hanging song "Free Until They Cut Me Down." And while nothing here will offend the ears of anyone who loved 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle, Beam has proved that Iron & Wine is no one-trick pony. He's moving forward as an artist, and he's bringing his fans with him.