Release Date: Apr 15, 2016
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
As soon as it was announced that Iron & Wine’s very own Sam Beam was to team up with Sub Pop label mate Jesca Hoop for a collaborative album, expectations were high, and after the first single, “Every Songbird Says”, was released, anticipation grew even more. It makes sense, since Iron & Wine is at the forefront in modern folk music while Jesca Hoop is a guitar virtuoso who has worked with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Mark Knopfler. Their musical tastes overlap, as their former collaboration on Hoop’s “Hunting My Dress” song from her last album showed, so there was no reason to doubt that a full-length album between them would be nothing short of excellent.
Sam Beam of Iron and Wine has never been averse to collaborating with like-minded artists, and he seems to have found an especially simpatico musical partner in Jesca Hoop. He and the musically shape-shifting Hoop co-wrote and recorded a batch of songs together. The result, 2016's Love Letter for Fire, is an album that shows both performers to their best advantage.
Love Letter for Fire’s particular charm lies in its two creators’ hesitance to take centre-stage. Written as conversational duets, the musical magnetism between first-time collaborators Jesca Hoop, California songwriter and adopted Manchester resident, and cult folk artist Sam Beam of Iron and Wine, allows for space and nuance, more two friends lamenting late into the night than tussling theatrics. Their dusky country and Americana avoids traditional tropes or slide guitars and pedal steels; tracks such as Bright Lights and Goodbyes and One Way to Pray instead languish in lazy acoustic guitars and drunken, swaying strings.
Despite their disparate backgrounds, Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop have managed to make an album that’s both hushed and harmonious, one that finds this, their first dual effort, blurring the lines between the sedate and the seductive. Beam’s no stranger to this approach; his efforts with Iron & Wine (which you can watch in the video below) generally find him dwelling in more cerebral realms. Hoop, on the other hand, has yet to establish an identity with any such distinction; four albums on, she still resides well below the radar.
For almost as long as humans have had fire, they've been writing songs about it. Billy Joel didn't start it, Hendrix wanted to stand next to it, and Jerry Lee Lewis had great balls of it. For Johnny Cash, it burned, burned, burned in an unholy ring. You might expect, then, that a record titled Love Letter for Fire would pay direct homage to the power of those crackling flames.
Sam Beam had been wanting to make a duets album for some time, but was never able to find the right voice, that is, until he came across the music of Jesca Hoop. After listening to her debut Kismet, he reached out and they soon began working on Love Letter for Fire. Having never shared songwriting responsibility before and despite their differences in styles, the arrangement turns out to be a complementary one.
So what exactly happens when you take two of indie folk’s most idiosyncratic artists and put them together in the studio? For Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop, the results are something of a pleasant surprise. Not to say that anyone expected the duo to sound like a hand-hewn antiqued pewter mug in a microwave. With those two names on the cover, Love Letter for Fire seemed guaranteed to be perfect for firefly-lit evening, a pair of cedar rocking chairs, and mason jars half-full of bourbon and ice.
Sam Beam, better known as Iron and Wine, started off his career shortly after the turn of the millennium as a quintessential solo artist. Debut album The Creek Drank The Cradle was delightfully simple and lo-fi, performed, recorded and produced by Beam in his home studio. But as time has passed, the South Carolina native has gradually fleshed out and varied his sound, becoming a regular collaborator with other luminaries of the American alternative scene, ranging from his In The Reins mini-album alongside Arizona’s Calexico to last year’s Sing Into My Mouth, a series of covers recorded with Band Of Horses front man Ben Bridwell.
It’s easy to forget that Sam Beam’s first release as Iron & Wine consisted of demos for what he intended to be a more fleshed-out record. The songs on The Creek Drank The Cradle had a particular magic in that raw and sparse state, which remained in the minds of Iron And Wine fans even as Beam marched away from quiet folk to a more polished and full sound on subsequent releases. But as Beam departed further from the hushed, whispered folk of his first two albums, the results have been uneven, from the ramshackle junk-yard folk of The Shepherd’s Dog, to the bloated and often frantic Kiss Each Other Clean, to the uncharacteristic pop excursions of Ghost On Ghost.
Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop — Love Letter for Fire (Sub Pop)Photo by Josh WoolI’m here to tell you what love is.Well, not really. You’ll have to sort that out yourself in handholds and first kisses and skinned knees and late bills and long walks and last kisses.But if I can’t tell you, I know Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop can show you. That’s the topic they explore on their new duets album Love Letter for Fire.