Friday, January 8, 2010

Bobby's song #5: "Sixteen, Maybe Less" by Iron&Wine w/ Calexico

In 2005 Iron & Wine (singer-songwriter Sam Beam) and Calexico teamed up to record a 7-track EP called In The Reins. For those familiar with both artists it was exciting to hear how 2 extraordinary songwriters and musicians would sound together since Calexico had a distinct desert western sound and Beam (up to that point) was a one-man band whose sound was influenced by his rural South Carolina upbringing. The result was THE best EP of the decade. (Go ahead and argue with me. You're wrong.)

My favorite song on the EP is a bittersweet song about first-loves, time, and memory called "Sixteen, Maybe Less". Listen to how ethereal pedal steel on the edges of the song and the tremolo on the guitars give it a dreamy-like sound. Every detail of this song, the instrumentation, the intonation, the tempo, the whisper-gentle voice of Sam Beam... all of it fits perfectly with the lyrics. Lyrics that are full of yearning and honesty.

Beyond the ridge to the left you asked me what I want
Between the trees and cicadas singing round the pond

I spent an hour with you should I want anything else?

One grin and wink like the neon on a liquor store
We were 16, maybe less, maybe a little more

I walked home smiling I finally had a story to tell

And though an autumn time lullaby sang our newborn love to sleep
My brother told me he saw you there in the woods on Christmas Eve


I met my wife at a party when I drank too much
My son is married and tells me we don't talk enough
Call it predictable yesterday my dream was of you

Beyond the ridge to the west the sun had left the sky

Between the trees and the pond you put your hand in mine
Said time has bridled us both but I remember you too

And though an autumn time lullaby sang our newborn love to sleep
My brother told me he saw you there in the woods on Christmas Eve


What a poetic notion - that a first-love should be sung to sleep by time and distance and youthful capriciousness.

The fact that Sam Beam grew up in South Carolina, mostly on a farm, shows up in these lyrics, too. Forests, ridges, and ponds. Time has "bridled" them both. This and the earnestness of his voice leads you to believe that this is a fairly auto-biographical song - that he really feels these. Much of Beam's music is like that. You find evidence of his roots in his music and his lyrics.

For Calexico, a band based in Tuscon, Arizona, to back Sam up with their distinctly southwestern sound, without pulling the listener out of the story of the song, is a testament to their musical talents and instincts.

Sadly, this one EP is all we have of this collaboration. Joey Burns (singer, guitar for Calexico) appeared on Iron & Wine's excellent 2007 album, The Shepherd's Dog, but I have heard of no other plans for a follow-up collaboration.

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