Essential New Music: Iron & Wine/Ben Bridwell’s “Sing Into My Mouth”

Iron&Ben

Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam both have roots in South Carolina, and Band Of Horses’ origin story includes a Seattle date opening for Iron & Wine, which caught the eye of Sub Pop, which led to its first album, Everything All The Time. Iron & Wine and Band Of Horses occupy a similar space in the musical spectrum: rootsy indie rock, or Americana, or wherever you file Calexico and Neko Case and Andrew Bird these days. So, a collaboration between Ben Bridwell and Sam Beam (who is the sole permanent member of I&W) makes sense, and this collection of covers, although full of eclectic choices, sounds like you probably expect it would. Beam and Bridwell love reverb and echo, they love a somber mid-tempo ballad, they love the trappings of country music and they love beards (although Bridwell hasn’t been as wedded to his as Beam has).

Sing Into My Mouth takes its name from a line in “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody),” which opens the record. There, Beam takes the lead vocal—the two alternate leads on the album’s 12 tracks while the other sings harmonies; these aren’t duets—and the arrangement turns Talking Heads’ gently syncopated classic into a loping, carefully articulated acoustic ballad, kinda like what Beam did for the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” way back when, although with pedal steel and accordion.

Beam, who produced the record, assembled a band of regulars from recent Iron & Wine projects: Paul Niehaus on steel, Rob Burger on various keys, Jim Becker on guitars, Matt Lux on bass and Joe Adamik on drums—Beam and Bridwell left their own guitars at home. There’s a Gram Parsons vibe here, on Bonnie Raitt’s “Any Day Woman” (Beam) and Spiritualized’s “The Straight And Narrow” (Bridwell) especially, and Niehaus’ pedal steel is the third prominent voice throughout the record.

Beam and Bridwell like songs with repetitive incantations, such as “There’s No Way Out Of Here” (originally by Unicorn, but then covered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour) and “God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)” (from El Perro Del Mar). And they love lots and lots of echo, so much that it threatens to drown Beam’s take on J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia” and Bridwell’s on Pete Seeger’s “Coyote, My Little Brother.”

Both Beam and Bridwell sing with a moody, melancholy thoughtfulness, although Bridwell tends to be more forceful and insistent while Beam is introspective and tender; you can feel Bridwell’s effort, while Beam’s casual understatement is entrancing. That’s the crucial distinction: Bridwell’s version of John Cale’s “You Know Me More Than I Know” has an accusatory edge, while Beam’s take on Sade’s “Bulletproof Soul” is eerie and atmospheric. Sing Into My Mouth is a collaboration, but Beam wins best in show.

—Steve Klinge