IRON & WINE with Widowspeak at Sound Academy (11 Polson), Saturday (September 28), 8 pm. $30-$40. RT, SS, TF.
"My music's developed a bit over a decade," says Iron & Wine's Sam Beam with a chuckle over morning tea.
Despite Beam's characteristically understated delivery, the sonic transformation has not been subtle. What was once mellow and minimalist (2004's Our Endless Numbered Days, for example) is now lush and eclectic in its instrumentation: Ghost On Ghost (Nonesuch), which came out earlier this year, includes embellished vocal melodies and touches of jazz and soul.
"It was a lot of fun," says Beam, the father of five, of the album. "Probably the most fun I've had making a record in a long time. For the last two I got a home studio, and the blessing and the curse of a home studio is that you can work on it all the time - and you end up working all the time. I spent at least nine months on each."
Thankfully, this one was the opposite. "We went into a studio in New York and basically finished in two weeks. It was also one of the most collaborative records, because I didn't play a lot."
Instead, Beam's friend Rob Burger handled string and horn arrangements, while legendary jazz drummer Brian Blade took over the skins, and multiple other musicians and artists pitched in elsewhere.
"He's technically great, but it's always from the heart - he's got a lot of church in him," says Beam about Blade's drumming style. "I went into [this album] planning to do a sophisticated torch song thing, like a Nilsson big band stately affair, but at the end of the day I think we realized we'd made an R&B record, and that had a lot to do with Brian."
The album's lyrical thread has to do with a couple, and the title - a line from the song Grace For Saints And Ramblers (which itself was borrowed from a James Wright poem) - is a nod to the theme.
"I love how generous that line is and how contradictory it is on face value," says Beam. "Ghosts are dead, not present, but at the same time we have two different connections, the physical and the spiritual.
"None of the songs are about the same couple," he continues. "But if you squint your eyes, it almost feels like the continuing adventures of these two people."