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Review Iron & Wine retains intimacy on 6-song ’Weed Garden’

Iron & Wine, “Weed Garden” (Sub Pop)

For fans of Iron & Wine, it’s Christmas in August. “Weed Garden” is a six-track EP including songs written by Sam Beam mostly while working toward his last full album, “Beast Epic,” and they sound very much like it.

“Beast Epic,” released a year ago, marked not just Beam’s return to Sub Pop, but also to a more uncluttered style. While still backed by a full band, both the EP and its predecessor benefit from a regained intimacy which boosts the directness of Beam’s vocals and his bandmates’ harmonies.

On opener “What Hurts Worse,” there are attempts to reconcile the idealistic aspects of a relationship with what’s actually achievable before it all crumbles, while “Last of Your Rock ‘n’ Roll Heroes” has a vibe like Tim Hardin fronting Stephen Stills’ Manassas and a disheveled, rickety protagonist who’s searching and struggling but also learning a life lesson every day.

Beam’s surprise gift is the exquisite “Waves of Galveston,” a fan favorite getting its first official release. Its very 70’s-sounding refrain caresses the eardrums and Nick Drake may have sounded like this if singing about Texas.

There are plenty of references to nature — the sea, butterflies, serpents, rain, clouds, flowers, winds and waves — but it’s all related to the human experience and the final three songs sustain the theme. Especially affecting are the gorgeous “Autumn Town Leaves” and the increasingly intense and desperate closer “Talking to Fog.”

“Weed Garden” is both a wonderful bonus in relation to “Beast Epic” and an enchanting collection that deserves to be valued for its own plentiful merits.