Iron & Wine / Ben Bridwell

Sing Into My Mouth

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It turns out that bearded gents Sam Beam of Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses were friends in their hometown of Columbia, South Carolina back before they were ever touring-bill companions or Sub Pop labelmates (mid- to late aughts), and well before they recorded a covers album together. Perhaps a studio collaboration was inevitable or even overdue given their amity, frequent path-crossing, and shared tastes and influences represented small-scale here on the 12-track Sing Into My Mouth. The title is taken from lyrics in the opening track, "This Must Be the Place" by Talking Heads, a sign of the relative diversity to come, which bridges Sade, John Cale, El Perro del Mar, and Peter La Farge. The Talking Heads tune is a toned-down take with acoustic and slide guitars, bass, piano, accordion, and light percussion, representative of an album full of slide guitar-heavy arrangements that fall squarely within folky expectations. Versions most similar to the originals include Ronnie Lane's "Done This One Before," '70s U.K. band Unicorn's "No Way Out of Here" (better known via David Gilmore's cover), Spiritualized's "Straight and Narrow," and fellow South Carolinians the Marshall Tucker Band's beautifully spare "Ab's Song" -- all folk-inspired or twang-leaning to begin with, and covered affectionately with Beam and Bridwell trading lead-vocal duty throughout the record. Most altered are the duo's reworkings of the strings-supported, Brill Building-esque "God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)" by Sweden's El Perro del Mar, which is slowed down here and given an earthy woodwind and guitar delivery; Sade's "Bullet Proof Soul," which still sounds uniquely Sade despite a rootsy rearrangement; and Them Two's 1967 soul plea "Am I a Good Man?," previously covered by Bridwell's Band of Horses and captured with enthusiasm on Sing Into My Mouth by piano, reed instruments, electric guitars, bass, and percussion. Other songs include Bonnie Raitt's "Anyday Woman," John Cale's "You Know Me More Than I Know," and J.J. Cale's "Magnolia." That kind of variety keeps things interesting, though none of the arrangements comes as a real surprise with the exception of the closer, "Coyote, My Little Brother" (later covered by Pete Seeger but recorded by its songwriter Peter La Farge in 1963), a yodeling, Native American-inspired lament that gets full dream pop treatment with Bridwell on lead. Still, the represented songwriters and the sequencing, which nimbly waltzes through 50 years of song selections beginning with a quirky new wave tune and ending with a howling cautionary ballad, are rendered with grace. Those attracted to the collaboration's premise will very likely appreciate its results.

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