Woman King follows the LP/EP/LP/EP blueprint Sam Beam has been following since he released his 2002 kick-me-in-the-ass-this-is-good debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle. This time he stews percussion, electric guitar, violin and piano in with his acoustic noodling and throaty vocals. The resulting tracks show that Beam is warming up to us, crawling further out of his songwriter shell and becoming comfortable with crowded arrangements. In other words, he likes us, and he’s okay with us liking him back.
His latest EP is a six-track therapy session that pisses directly on the line separating obsessive beauty and point-of-no-return madness. In just twenty-four minutes, we feel like we’ve raised a barn, revealed our feelings to the woman we’ve been in love with forever, trotted through a snowy forest on horseback in frustration and stopped to build a campfire under a starry night, all before dawn.
The shuffling title track summons "Mrs. Robinson" and some wicked slide-guitar action only to set the stage for a pair of plaintive finger-pluckers. The up-tempo "Freedom Hangs Like Heaven" picks the mood back up before descending into the piano balladry of "My Lady’s House" and then the crashing "Evening on the Ground (Lilith’s Song)." If this is the direction Beam takes on his next full-length, expect a peaks-and-valley masterpiece.
The title comes from what Sub Pop’s press release calls "the cult of the woman — hopeful in our shadowy roles for her and veiled in the corners of Beam’s own memory." Whatever. If you play it, Sam, we will come.