Sam Beam, Mr Iron and Wine, has had an interesting lineage to date. A professor of cinematography, he took up music late, but can lay quiet claim to being one of the best songwriters around. His earlier releases had a quiet Nick Drake feel, but gradually he has become comfortable adding in instrumentation and layers of interest, most notably on his own (quite outstanding Woman King EP) and on a collaboration with dusty Latin USA rockers Calexico, where hypnotic rhythm drives what could be more typical songwriter fare. The Shepherd's Dog continues the Calexico feel, but moves the Iron And Wine experience closer to early 70's America (of Horse With No Name fame).
The lo-fi sound has been ditched completely now, and producer Brian Deck adds in a richness previously missing in what could be arid air. In the end, this isn't Sam Beam's best batch of songs - there is little with the immediacy of Our Endless Numbered Days or Woman King - but there is a wonderful reward for relaxing into the album and breathing its pace rather than your own. You may fall in love a few times along the way - Resurrection Fern is Trapeze Swinger gorgeous, Boy With A Coin Paul Simon excellent, and The Devil Never Sleeps completes a mid-album sweep with a wonderful piano blues piece. The Shepherd's Dog isn't Iron and Wine's best, but it is still essential listening.