Quietness is a virtue overlooked by music makers of all stripes and fashions. The tendency is to overplay, overfill, oversing. Not so for Sam Beam, the Florida-based singer whose voice rarely registers above a whisper and at its loudest might qualify as a murmur. Beam, who records under the band name Iron & Wine, brought a few musicians to a sold-out Iota on Monday night, the first of two nights for him at the club, but you had to pay close attention to hear the contributions of bassist EJ Holowicki, guitarist Patrick McKinney and drummer Jonathan Bradley.
For a few songs the trio left the stage to let Beam play alone, and the difference in the overall sound was almost imperceptible. Almost, but not entirely. For Beam's minimalist indie-blues, a cross between Elliott Smith and Mississippi John Hurt, the players added just the right sort of meticulous accompaniment required for such delicate compositions as "Radio War" and a cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning."
With his close-cropped hair, bushy beard and deep-set eyes, Beam looks a bit like a haunted figure from a Civil War photograph, and his songs, too, feel of another time. Choosing material from his two CDs, this year's "Our Endless Numbered Days" and 2002's "The Creek Drank the Cradle," Beam seemed to lose himself in eerie tales of death, southern gothic devotion and even primitive spirituality.
For the beautiful and disturbing "Naked as We Came," Beam barely breathed the lines "One of us will die inside these arms / Eyes wide open, naked as we came / One will spread our ashes round the yard." You could scream out lyrics like that and get your point across. But having to strain to hear Beam somehow made the words sound that much more despondent, vexing and lovely.
-- Joe Heim