Release Date: Jul 17, 2015
Record label: Black Cricket Recording
A collaboration between Iron And Wine and Band Of Horses, two of the most consistently excellent Americana acts of the past decade, hardly qualifies as an unlikely alliance, especially as Sam Beam and Horses front man Ben Bridwell are fellow South Carolinans who have known each other since the beginning of their careers. Indeed, it was Bridwell’s brother who passed a copy of Beam’s early demos to a magazine editor, who included them on one of his publication’s compilation CDs and thus launched the Iron And Wine story. What’s perhaps more surprising is that when the two men finally got round to recording together, rather than combining their shared song writing strengths they’ve opted instead to assemble a series of sometimes unlikely covers they claim have influenced their music, ranging from Pete Seeger to Talking Heads, Spiritualized and even Sade.
Back in 2005, an under-the-radar folksy act called Iron & Wine took an even smaller Seattle band called Band of Horses on tour across America. It all stemmed from the fact that Iron & Wine’s main man Sam Beam grew up with Band of Horses singer/songwriter Ben Bridwell’s older brother in Columbia, S.C. The two musicians have since fostered a long friendship, most recently culminating in the covers album Sing Into My Mouth.
Iron and Wine's Sam Beam has long been identified with an affinity for cover songs. It was, after all, his lo-fi acoustic version of the Postal Service's synth-pop anthem “Such Great Heights,” featured in Zach Braff's soundtrack in search of a movie, Garden State, that brought him to the general public's attention. So it was probably inevitable that he'd eventually turn out an entire collection of covers, enlisting his friend, Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell, for an album that draws heavily from the 1970s rock radio that undergirds both bands' current styles.
It turns out that bearded gents Sam Beam of Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses were friends in their hometown of Columbia, South Carolina back before they were ever touring-bill companions or Sub Pop labelmates (mid- to late aughts), and well before they recorded a covers album together. Perhaps a studio collaboration was inevitable or even overdue given their amity, frequent path-crossing, and shared tastes and influences represented small-scale here on the 12-track Sing Into My Mouth. The title is taken from lyrics in the opening track, "This Must Be the Place" by Talking Heads, a sign of the relative diversity to come, which bridges Sade, John Cale, El Perro del Mar, and Peter La Farge.
In early April 2015, long-time friends Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) and Ben Bridwell (of Band of Horses) announced a collaborative album. The much awaited result is Sing Into My Mouth, in which the duo covers 12 songs from artists as varied as Bonnie Raitt and JJ Cale. (The album's title should tip Talking Heads fans off to the fact that it's a collection of covers—it's a lyric taken from "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," which is the first track.) .
Sam Beam, better known by his recording name Iron & Wine, stepped up to the microphone and greeted a crowd reeling with anticipation. “I’m delighted to be here tonight with Mr. Ben Bridwell,” he began, “who’s such an exceptional musician.” “Bisexual musician?” repeated Bridwell. Thus began the bromantic banter of two kindred artists and spirits kicking off a mini-tour in support of their new collaborative full-length, Sing Into My Mouth.
On this set of far-flung covers, Sam Beam (a.k.a. indie folk act Iron and Wine) and Ben Bridwell of indie rockers Band of Horses tackle everything from Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place" to Spiritualized and early-Nineties Sade. Bridwell renders a perfectly gentle vocal on David Gilmour's "There's No Way Out of Here," cleverly landing closer to the 1976 version by prog-pop footnote Unicorn, and a versatile backing band featuring members of Calexico helps elevate tracks like the soul obscurity "Am I a Good Man?" The album ends up feeling like a mixtape put together by a pair of old friends.
Iron and Wine frontman Sam Beam and the Band of Horses singer have been friends for 15 years, during which the South Carolinians have mailed each other their favourite music. The bond has now produced an album of covers which, however enjoyable, doesn’t always take songs by the likes of John and JJ Cale, Ronnie Laine, Bon Iver and Bonnie Raitt to places they haven’t been before. Spiritualized’s The Straight and Narrow is very slightly more country, although it’s such a great song it can’t be heard enough.
“Never for money; always for love. ” That’s a line from Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”, which also opens the new album of covers from Iron and Wine (aka Sam Beam) and Ben Bridwell (frontman for Band of Horses), Sing Into My Mouth. With a couple of beer bottles clinking on the album artwork, that lyric makes for a fitting mantra on a record that finds its inspiration in the two singers’ long-standing friendship, which goes back over 15 years to when the budding musicians would send each other CDs and cassettes.
If a picture speaks a thousand words then it’s entirely possible that the press photograph for this record says more than I can about it than I can in five hundred or so. Sam Beam and Ben Bridwell sit at a table, each with a beer, laughing. It’s not even slightly difficult to believe that Sing Into My Mouth was conceived in such an environment; two guys who evidently enjoy each other’s company deciding to make a covers album for the hell of it.
It’s hard to get a clear read on Talking Heads’ "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)", the closing track on their 1983 album Speaking in Tongues. David Byrne sings with such dry detachment that I always think of him as an alien who has landed on Earth to observe the mating rituals of human beings. Even as he describes the customs, he lacks an understanding of the emotions that motivate them, so what should be mundane imagery comes across as foreign and strange: "You got a face with a view," he offers as a compliment, then adds, "I’m just an animal looking for a home." Yet, the song is so well-observed, so wide-eyed and naïve that it never comes across like a parody of marriage and commitment.
Folk inheritors Sam Beam and Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell team up for an eclectic set of covers that falls flat on its face. From the outset on Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place," the pair sucks the life and adventure from 12 reworkings. Whereas Iron & Wine's past lo-fi covers revealed new depths (à la "Waitin' for a Superman" or "Love Vigilantes"), sparse renditions here add zero insight even when they charm in deep-cut exhumation like David Gilmour's "There's No Way out of Here." Sade's "Bullet Proof Soul" gets a haunting twist of Americana, and Bridwell stripped of reverb on Ronnie Lane's "Done This One Before" compels earnestly.