Iron & Wine

Woman King Sub Pop

This one's dedicated to the ladies, but you'll never confuse bearded folk bard Sam Beam (a.k.a. Iron & Wine) for, say, R. Kelly or Usher. On this lovely six-song EP, which arrives nearly a year after his terrific sophomore full-length Our Endless Numbered Days, the former Miami International University of Art and Design cinematography teacher peers into the dark corners of female identity and experience and comes away with some compelling perspectives, all delivered with the usual lyrical grace, hushed vocals, and flair for understated arrangements.

In "Jezebel" and "Evening on the Ground (Lilith's Song)," Beam presents magnanimous, feminist-leaning takes on two of the Bible's supposed bad girls. Amid the gently picked guitars and banjos -- and sister Sarah's heavenly harmonies -- of the former, Beam's whispery tenor displays admiration for the self-determination of the so-called wicked queen: "She was born to be the woman we could blame/Make me a beast half as brave/I'd be the same." Yet, as he observes, strong women can be simultaneously fragile, too. The "brave lady" of the loping, violin-graced "Gray Stables" is "like a teacup on the counter/frail, pleasing everyone," while the dark, Leadbelly-esque title track, driven by click-a-clack percussion, crosscuts forbidding rural imagery with a tale of an aggrieved ruler whose burdensome position knows no gender.

But for all his keen insight, Beam admits to a lover in the enchanting "My Lady's House" that the fairer sex will always remain something of a mystery: "Thank God you see me the way you do/Strange as you are to me."

 
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