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A Breezy Hammock Jam, but So Much More

Iron and Wine began as little more than a vehicle for the sweetly rustic home recordings of Sam Beam, a soft-voiced (and impressively bearded) teacher from Miami, Fla. Coming off like Nick Drake if he'd spun tales of Southern Gothic misery, Beam quickly nailed down a signature sound, built around breathy vocals, delicately picked acoustic guitars, layered harmonies, and not much else — a surprisingly versatile and effective formula, especially when applied to unexpected covers of songs by The Postal Service and The Flaming Lips.

Still, apparently sensing the limits of barren moodiness, Beam has converted Iron and Wine to a fully fleshed-out band, a process nowhere near as awkward as fans of his stark 2002 debut (The Creek Drank the Cradle) might have feared. The Shepherd's Dog seems to build on Beam's propulsive collaboration with Calexico from a couple years back, instilling the singer's musings with a sense of rhythmic momentum. Deceptively laid-back, "Lovesong of the Buzzard" gets a wonderfully warm-blooded arrangement, as organs and steel guitars contribute to a sound that's downright springy, even lilting.

Which says nothing of Beam's mysterious turns of phrase — "Springtime and the promise of an open fist / A tattoo of a flower on a broken wrist" — each of which makes "Lovesong of the Buzzard" more than just a breezy hammock jam. The arrangement may be a cool glass of lemonade, but Beam spikes it with something potent and satisfying along the way.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)