Like any Southerner worth his salt, Sam Beamís overriding theme is loss: big losses ó of sons from mothers, of fathers from daughters ó but little needling absences, too, the stoic gravity of empty beds and words unsaid. His lyrics often revolve around moments of letting go, and like such moments, his music sneaks up on you: a banjo jumps and clangs like an unminded kettle on the stove, a bottleneck slide straggles in like the eveningís last tired light sneaking in around a rust-hinged cabin door, and the man inside waxes amused and haunted by the wrinkled, fading memories of his own foolishness. "Love is a tired symphony you hum when youíre awake," he murmurs wearily on "Lionís Mane," "and love is a crying baby mama warned you not to shake."
A heretofore unknown roots-folk hermit who has been locked away down in Florida somewhere, Beam four-tracks his wisp of a voice in close-clinging harmonies over rolling-meadow finger-picked acoustic guitar, broke-dick banjo, and pre-war country blues. The surprise twist is in his harmonies, which are less about Harry Smithing the joint to death than about playing Simon to his own Garfunkel, or Crosby to his own Stills, Nash & Young. On "Rooster Moans," his albumís most ancient-sounding tune, he imagines a sunrise song swap among the ghosts of Nick Drake, Dock Boggs, and Charlie Patton; it could pass for a field recording from the í30s except for the voice, which wouldnít fool anyone. Then again, it isnít the sort of voice that means to hide anything.
(Sam Beam, a/k/a Iron & Wine, plays T.T. the Bearís Place on February 2; call 617-492-BEAR.)