Digging into a musician's early, unreleased material is a little like looking at a loved one's old family photos—if you're lucky, you gain a greater understanding of the person in the pictures. Such is the case of Iron & Wine fans that explore Sam Beam's Archive Series of DIY recordings, a glimpse of his initial steps as a recording artist. Like the series' first installment, Vol. 2 predates the release of the Iron & Wine debut, 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle. But instead of another album of rarities, there's only a single 7", featuring a pair of cover tunes. The A-side offers Beam's version of a muted, moody Neil Young deep cut, "Albuquerque," which originally appeared on 1975's Tonight's the Night. It's a loner's ode to dislocation, full of wanderlust and alienation in equal measure, and narrated by a man who has "been starving to be alone, independent from the scene that I've known."
When Young sang it, amid the soft but stalwart company of Ben Keith's pedal steel and Nils Lofgren's piano, it sounded like the musing of a man considering flight from familiar surroundings. But on Beam's rough-hewn home recording, it feels like he's already on the journey, trying to quietly convince himself he made the right move. With only the steady thump of his acoustic guitar and a ghostly banjo to accompany his trademark murmur, Beam comes off even more remote than Young. You might fear something sinister was about to unfold if the song's final verse didn't reveal that the singer's most pressing agenda item to be "fried eggs and country ham."
Archive Series Volume No. 2 also features a cover of The Four Tops "It's the Same Old Song"; it is out Oct. 16 on Black Cricket Recording Co.
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