Named after a lyric from "The Trapeze Swinger," Around the Well collects two discs' worth of B-sides, rarities, and discarded tracks from the Iron & Wine catalog. These kinds of compilations can be tricky to assemble, but Around the Well is both comprehensive and conveniently presented, with each disc representing the two amorphous halves of Iron & Wine's career. Disc one is limited to the group's early days, meaning it's filled with soft bedroom whispers, homespun acoustics, and the lo-fi production that fueled Sam Beam's home recording sessions. Material from those same sessions would later form the track list of The Creek Drank the Cradle, but Around the Well pays attention to the songs that were cut from the album, offering several genuine gems amidst a constant stream of pleasant, stay-in-bed songcraft. Meanwhile, the second disc highlights Iron & Wine's shift from intimate solo project to collaborative indie folk band, beginning with the Our Endless Numbered Days sessions and culminating in the pastoral psychedelia of The Shepherd's Dog. Some of these selections are already familiar to Iron & Wine's biggest fans, including Beam's cover of "Such Great Heights" (heard on the Garden State soundtrack, as well as an oddly trippy M&Ms commercial) and the gorgeous concert staple "The Trapeze Swinger." Even so, few fans outside of Beam's social circle have heard standout tunes like "Kingdom of the Animals" and the vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding "Arms of a Thief," and Around the Well serves as a helpful reminder that a discarded Iron & Wine song is still better than most fine-tuned cuts from other bands.
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AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2