"Woman King"

Sub Pop


"In the Reins"


Now that listeners have come to understand that Iron & Wine is not a band but the whispery voice and rippling guitar of a single man, that solitary balladeer has devised two ways to expand his musical reach. Sam Beam's songs and singing are central to his two recent EPs, "Woman King" and "In the Reins," but each adds new collaborators; the latter even incorporates an entire band, Calexico.

Producer Brian Deck amplifies Iron & Wine's tranquil sound on "Woman King," but most of his embellishments are subtle. Banjo, piano and percussion, as well as sister Sarah Beam's harmonies, embellish these six songs -- all of them about women, and at least several inspired by scripture. The most outgoing numbers frame the set: The CD-opening title song is propelled by slinky slide guitar, clattering drums and breathy backup vocals, and the closing "Evening on the Ground (Lilith's Song)," is lifted by a unexpectedly plugged-in guitar. Yet everything is modulated to Beam's voice and lyrics, which here take a prophetic tone: "Someday we may see a / Woman king, sword in hand." This isn't gospel music, but the EP's meld of the serene and the insistent does complement Beam's visionary tendencies.

Arizona's Calexico specializes in a sort of spaghetti western indie pop, which Beam accommodates on "In the Reins" with songs where "red dust plays on the wind," "there's a prison on Route 41" and grace is "one more kiss from some tall stable girl." A dozen musicians perform on these seven tunes, contrasting Beam's guitar and voice with horns, organ, pedal steel and a variety of vocals, including a Spanish-language verse declaimed by Salvador Duran in a most un-Beamish style on "He Lays in the Reins." Yet the tone remains delicate, and Beam is never upstaged. He holds his own not only on the placid "Dead Man's Will," with Joey Burns's and Natalie Wyants's harmonies lapping his voice, but also on "A History of Lovers," a folk-rock-goes-Memphis number that suggests Beam might just someday learn to swagger.

-- Mark Jenkins

Both appearing Wednesday at the 9:30 club.

Iron & Wine and Calexico team up for the EP "In the Reins."