A striking piece of lo-fi folk in a southern Gothic vein, Iron & Wine's 2002 debut album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, became an indie success on its own merits, though its charming backstory didn't hurt. Originally the "band" was little more than the four-track hobby of Sam Beam, a Miami film professor, but an Iron & Wine track on a fanzine compilation caught the ear of Sub Pop cofounder Jonathan Poneman, who, after hearing more of Beam's homemade music, offered him a contract. The dark, rustic sound of Creek and the 2003 follow-up EP, The Sea & the Rhythm, put Beam in a long tradition of acoustic troubadours with clouded souls--Neil Young and Elliott Smith are obvious touchstones. Recorded in part at Chicago's Engine Studios last summer, the new Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop) is distinguished by relatively modest sonic adjustments--the snap and thrum of a rhythm section here, a harmony vocal there, better-placed microphones everywhere--but the fine-tuning gives Beam's music an intensity and intimacy it lacked on the earlier records, bringing his clean fingerpicking and half-whispered musings to the fore. Beam's mood remains dark--most of his characters are ghosts or people concerned about becoming them--but the songcraft is so compelling and pastoral it comes out feeling like sunlight. Azita and Langtry open the early show (18+), and Langtry opens the late show (21+). $15. Friday, July 2, 7:45 and 11:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kim Black.