Rather than alluding to a bizarre, breach-of-personal-space practice one might imagine (just me?) with a title like Sing Into My Mouth, Iron & Wine (Sam Beam) & Ben Bridwell are instead referencing a lyric from the first track of their new covers collection, Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)’. Now, this information immediately presents a set of questions; namely, and plainly, does an album of covers merit a review? Does this record present enough of a variety of covers to concede itself to critical scrutiny? Finally, are said covers construed in a novel, if not transformative style, that would add some worth to, or deviation on the original versions?
Yes, yes, and well, yes, in truth. This affirmation may be controversial, but to use the old cliché, the music really does speak for itself. The opening version of ‘This Must Be The Place’ is so superbly sweet; honied, slick tones and slide guitars build an atmosphere of Southern Savannah – harmonies enveloping the emotional undertones like warm velvet – much like their heartfelt version of Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Any Day Woman’. The soulful timbres are strained at times, but it’s calculated in the arrangement to move you – and it will move you throughout the record.
This is sleepy, late night slow dance material at its core and it’s done with such passionate flair, you’d be hard-pressed to realise that through the smokey, heart-break highway dive-bar visage, that these alternative singer-songwriters are covering such a variable palette of genres in their country milieu. Images of neon Miller signs flicker behind the bar, the lament of middle-of-nowhere sentimentalities fill up the cracked corner jukebox as Sam Beam & Ben Bridwell heal the wounds of hard times and harder lives. It’s a strangely cathartic experience to listen to the work of John Cale, Sade and Spiritualized being completely changed and so far, it’s the finest alt-country album we’ve heard in a long time.
There are few moments on Sing In To My Mouth that deliberately break from the stylistic direction the pair are so readily embracing, which is fine of course, but when it happens it is utterly commanding. Their interpretation of JJ Cale’s ‘Magnolia’ is fuzz-soaked and psychedelic, floating through the ether with slothful grace; the track swells and balances out with each guitar stroke.
How Beam & Bridwell have managed such a feat is understandable. They’re both accomplished, intelligent songwriters and as such have proven themselves to be equally adept at selecting songs to make complicit in their vision. There’s more to this than ability though and that’s a little harder to pinpoint – the arrangements? The instrumentation? The vocals? I say all of the above and the way in which they’re fused together and this makes Sing Into My Mouth a beautiful listening experience.