Sam Beam is the sotto voce phenomenon of this time. It's illuminating to see how his hushed tones have taken the world by quiet storm.
And when you lean in to catch the words, he's talking to you, if sometimes obliquely. In "Naked As We Came," from 2004's Our Endless Numbered Days, though, more plaintively:
She says wake up, it's no use pretending
Eyes wide open
Considering that Sam's debut on Sub Pop Records, The Creek Drank The Cradle, was only 2002, his output has been substantial. There were two more full length CDs, Our Endless Numbered Days and the fantastic 2007 release The Shepherd's Dog. Along with that, 4 EPs: a live one from 2002, The Sea And The Rhythm, Woman King, and In The Reins, which he made with Calexico. Beyond all this, there were singles, iTunes exclusives that included a single and a Live Session, and more.
He played Bonaroo, Bumbershoot, Pitchfork, and has become a household name, which one imagines comes as a shock to this former Professor of Film and Cinematography and father of two daughters. (We find, for instance, in this issue that Janet Reno brought him up as a candidate for their Song of America project, though she'd not heard him, just about him.)
But that's all background for everyone who has heard more about him than actually heard his stirring incantations. The new record, The Shepherd's Dog, is a more orchestrated, or at least fleshed-out, take on the song of Sam, and the pinnacle of his work so far. Previously the work had been presented in an alternative folk style and instrumentation, and it came right for your heart and your head, you could say. The Shepherd's Dog lights all the specials, however, from your feet soles to the chakra they say is above your earthly body.
Although the spooky bedroom vocals and Southen Gothic vibe of the early records not only got but held the critics' and crowds' attention, the new record has everybody raising high marks in the air. If you've not heard it, we'll include a few clips that leave no doubt about you whipping out that plastic.
There are elements of dub, and West African music (a favorite groove of Beam's, who is a big Ali Farka Toure fan) and everything from bass harmonica to backwards guitars necessary for a stellar reinvention.
We liked him before, but we love him now. It is on the shortest list of must-have records of the year. Sam Beam for President--bring those troops home.