Even when performing with a full band, I can only ever think of Iron & Wine as the solo project of erudite wordsmith Sam Beam.
Mike Campbell noted of Beam in his W&H review of 2004's 'Our Endless Numbered Days' : "his voice is intimate and hushed as though sharing secrets with you round a fire in the early hours of the morning".
Nothing much has changed in the man's style since then although the nature of the secrets he's telling are rarely crystal clear. His highly poetic songs are fascinatingly obtuse without being deliberately obscure. On each hearing new lines leap out and most are open to a variety of interpretations.
Whether electric or acoustic, the arrangements never overwhelm this uniquely captivating voice. Iron & Wine is typically defined as Alt Country but signing for the home of grunge, Seattle-based label Sub Pop was an early indication that any rush to apply a tidy genre label is a fool's errand.
'Weed Garden' is a six-song EP which consists of tracks that didn't quite make the cut for his last full length Grammy nominated album, Beast Epic which Beam described as a collection which "speaks to the beauty and pain of growing up after you've already grown up". The impetus to complete the tunes came while on tour and they were recorded in Chicago's Loft studio.
They certainly don't have the feel of being leftovers or after thoughts. Waves Of Galveston has actually been around for a good while. A video of a solo performance (capturing Beam's expert finger picking) was published in September 2004. This is a sad tale of a lost soul in Texas with no soft place to fall: "You never knew you were a burden til it hit you on the head".
The opening track, What Hurts Worse, is like an elegant waltz and hints at regrets for what might have been: "Let's forget whatever we know......Let's become the lovers we need".
The songs seem to be addressing a feeling that something is lacking in life even though you can't quite put your finger on what it is. I can certainly relate to the thought that the Last Of Your Rock'n'Roll Heroes are gone.
Milkweed is notable for its elegant piano and string arrangement while the closing songs have seasonal themes with the sorrowful love song Autumn Town Leaves preceding the distinctly wintry mood of Talking To Fog.
As with the rest of Iron & Wine's catalogue, the melancholy, introspective perspective is obvious but the sadness is so eloquently expressed that these new songs can best be thought of as heart warming tales of heartbreak.