Review: Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop – Love Letter for Fire



4 OUT OF 5 NUTS!

Whether you want to call him Sam Beam or Iron and Wine, the fact remains that I love the guy. I loved his covers album with Ben Bridwell that he released last year, and I love his collaboration with singer-songwriter and Tom Waits protege Jesca Hoop. In this case, the duo are playing original tunes and splitting the writing and singing duties more or less equally. Hoop’s mere presence electrifies Beam beyond anything I’ve seen in years. The dynamic call-and-response of “Every Songbird Says” has the spark and crackle of an actual dialogue. You can almost see the two artists interacting through the music.

 

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Though Beam’s dusty voice remains appealing and inviting, Hoop is the real MVP here. Sultry on “The Lamb You Lost,” ethereal and mysterious on “Know the Wild that Wants You,” she truly has a remarkable instrument. The intermixing of the two distinct vocal styles is one of many contributing factors to the ever-present feeling of texture that this whole record displays. Barking string instruments provide percussion as much as melody, while acoustic guitar keeps time more often than not.

However despite the best efforts to keep things interesting, the duo settle into a bit of a rut around the still-good “Kiss Me Quick.”

As if the record sensed my waning interest, it delivered the standout track “Chalk it Up to Chi,” which gleefully recalls the arty cabaret pop of the Dresden Dolls. The infectious track serves as a wonderful palate cleanser that mentally prepares the listener for the relatively standard fare of the closing three tracks. In that one strategic choice, Beam/Hoop reaffirm the effectiveness of their partnership and elevate this record to a higher level.

 

When these two artists get together, the result becomes more than folk music, though that is certainly where you’d find it at your average record store. I’m not usually into music as gentle and nuanced as this, but damned if melody doesn’t transcend all genre biases. I’m a bit of a sucker for “male-female-harmonies” as well, and this album delivers that sort of thing in spades.

I’ve listened to this album about six times today, and I’m still not tired of it. In fact, I’m hankering for a follow-up, so Beam and Hoop should probably get started like now.

 

 

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