Feb 24, 6:11 PM EST

Review: Iron & Wine releases choice archive material

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Iron & Wine, "Archive Series Volume No. 1" (Black Cricket Recording Co.)

The songs from Iron & Wine's first album, "The Creek Drank the Cradle," were cherry-picked from material Sam Beam had been recording at home for years before catching the attention of Sup Pop Records in 2002.

His first unreleased collection from that period, "Archive Series Volume No. 1," acts as a companion piece to the debut. There is a banjo here, a flicker of female voice there, but this is mostly acoustic guitar with half the lyrics delivered just above a whisper.

The stunning "Eden" returns to the biblical imagery ingrained in some of his best work. At one point, Beam depicts heaven as "a distance not a place" and an indifference to destination and time recur throughout. There's a lost watch; a calendar has fallen off the wall; and on "Beyond the Fence," he sings: "This clock's beautiful but can't keep time." The meditative pace frames inanimate details and lends these songs a timeless quality.

The constant is a clear Southern gothic character. There is mention of a sunburnt nose, ears of corn and a sheet blowing on a line. These are lived in songs about slow rivers, freckled girls and the shade of a dogwood tree. Personal songs - that in the hands of Beam - are relatable.

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