A "Muddy Hymnal," the aptly named final track on Iron and Wine’s debut full-length, The Creek Drank the Cradle, epitomizes the groggy, cloudy nature of this collection. Muffled banjos, steel guitars and lyrics including "Crack of dawn/ Rooster crows/ Wake up boy" lead listeners on a journey through many facets of life in America’s South.
The Creek Drank the Cradle is comprised of 12 tracks taken from the two full-length demos Samuel Beam, a cinematographer at a Miami university when he’s not performing, writing and producing sweetly simple bare-to-the-bone music under the Iron and Wine moniker, sent to Sub Pop upon label-head Jonathon Poneman’s request. Let the non-wavering slow pace of the record and Beam’s whispering vocals take hold, and you’ll feel as if you’re sitting on an Alabama front porch watching the sun set, sipping on raspberry moonshine listening to a stranger tell his life’s story. With The Creek Drank the Cradle, Beam put together a record so visceral that it left me feeling sticky with humidity and, I swear, itchy from mosquito bites.
Passionately describing the confusion and heartbreak of losing a love, or leaving home for the first time, or a man’s relationship with his mother, this album effectively and effortlessly skips through many nostalgic topics, mirroring the band’s wistful musical style. Iron and Wine’s haunting sound and continuously entertaining and thought provoking lyrics are a breath of fresh air.
At no point does the tune or subject matter lighten; The Creek remains delightfully in doldrums for its entirety. At its brightest this album is melancholy, and it’s one of the best of 2002.