With his exploration of jazz and R&B over the last few albums, it’s easy to forget that Sam Beam’s Iron & Wine project started under much humbler conditions. His origin story has taken on almost mythic proportions: a film professor pours seven years’ worth of hushed folk music into a borrowed tape recorder, earning a huge following despite (or maybe because of) the smallness of the songs. Fittingly, it could be a plot from the kinds of films he studied, but to his credit, Beam has always written songs that don’t echo any specific sonic time or place.
Iron & Wine has largely left the lo-fi world behind, but on February 24, a new collection revisits Beam’s earliest recordings. Archive Series Volume 1 proves that Iron & Wine’s heralded debut The Creek Drank The Cradle didn’t come from nowhere. There’s a woodshedding quality to many of these songs as Beam grows comfortable with his voice, but his storytelling was already coming into focus. “Everyone’s Summer Of ’95” does the kind of thing that only the best songwriters can accomplish: it tells a very specific tale that, nevertheless, anyone could relate to. Beam spins a summer road trip into an epic memory, punctuated by a refrain that’s little but says a lot: “Halfway home and going nowhere.”