Having released one of the best records of the 00s with The Shepherd’s Dog, Sam Beam seemed content to sit back and relax. Four years later, he stomped on that recognition by fearlessly adding funk and jazz to Kiss Each Other Clean. Ghost on Ghost took only two years to come around and dives deeper into the 70s radio friendly jazz-lite rock.
Opener ‘Caught in the Briars’ wrong foots your ears twice before settling on a mixture of folk guitars and cawing trumpets. ‘The Desert Babbler’ sets the tone better with a mixture of funky bass and backing vocals filled with 60s soul. Nine tracks in we are treated to something of a throwback to Beam’s debut in ‘Winter Prayer’. With hushed vocals and lingering piano, it also features some of the album’s best lyrics: “Every once in a while your confidence leaves you like/ smoke falls out her red mouth”.
That is when he’s at his best, although, simply put, there isn’t enough fire in his belly to quite make this genre and style of sound his own. Only one line on the whole album is growled, the rest float on a breeze. He pulls the melody and music off with conviction and is clearly letting his influences shine through though – and they should since he’s backed by some of Bob Dylan’s gang – but his hushed voice, still swaying like a hammock, belongs to the folk confessionals.
Musically, however, you can’t deny the joy here. For a summer’s road trip, there will be few better records this year. ‘Lovers’ Revolution’ quacks with a brass ensemble as Beam manages to reel off rhyme after picturesque rhyme without tripping himself up: “Every eye beneath the mountain saw the smoke but no one heard the blast/ No one knew the arm was broken although everybody signed the cast/ until the government was good, she said man I thought you’d never ask/ and when the whore wore out her welcome, they just booked her for a bag of grass”.
Having deserved some artistic freedom, Sam Beam is deep in the stages of a songwriter’s musical evolution. It will always bear a gorgeous fruit, but maybe one day he will come full circle and know where his voice lies best.