Sam Beam of Iron and Wine has never been averse to collaborating with like-minded artists, and he seems to have found an especially simpatico musical partner in Jesca Hoop. He and the musically shape-shifting Hoop co-wrote and recorded a batch of songs together. The result, 2016's Love Letter for Fire, is an album that shows both performers to their best advantage. For Beam, Hoop's clever melodic conceits and rich, free-spirited vocal and guitar style bring some fresh flavors to his repertoire. For Hoop, the full-bodied strength of Beam's vocals and guitar work gives her a mooring that keeps her airier ideas from drifting away. And together, they're superb duet partners, harmonizing with a skill that brings out the best in each singer and serves these 13 songs beautifully. If the tunes aren't wildly upbeat, the interaction of Beam and Hoop's voices emphasizes the humanity of his vision, and the best of this music manages to sound warm, gentle, and thoughtful without feeling bland. Drawing from '70s soft rock, more rustic Americana influences, and the sometimes mannered but emotionally honest tone of indie folk, the music is accessible but quietly adventurous. Producer Tucker Martine has given these recordings a clean but well-balanced sound, with the studio band lending valuable color and texture to Beam and Hoop's work. (The players include Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and former Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg.) Collaborative efforts like this usually give musicians a chance to play around a bit with unfamiliar ideas. But Love Letter for Fire sounds like Beam and Hoop were born to work together. The yin and yang of their individual perspectives fit together marvelously, and this rests comfortably with the best of both their recorded works.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming