Of all the national acts South Florida has exported to the rest of the world, Sam Beam may well have been the most unlikely.
His hushed, introverted stance is a far cry from the effusive approach taken by most reared in these environs, whether they were birthed in the disco boom (KC and the Sunshine Band, Betty Wright), raised our rock 'n' roll credibility (Marilyn Manson, the Goods), or even ventured into country crossover (the Mavericks).
Despite the fact that his sound didn't seem tailored for mainstream acceptance, Beam persevered and, under the aegis of Iron and Wine, managed to become this region's most prominent indie alt-folk contender to date.
Born July 26, 1974, Beam spent his childhood in South Carolina and Virginia before settling in South Florida and graduating from Florida State University's Film School with his MFA. After relocating to Miami, he became a professor of film and cinematography at the University of Miami and the Art Institute.
Although a painter by trade, his first love was music, and after seven years of recording his own homegrown demos, he finally decided to give one to his friend Michael Bridwell, whose brother Ben helmed the group Band of Horses. Eventually the tape found its way into the hands of an influential music editor who decided to include his song "Dead Man's Will" in one of his magazine's compilations. The president of Seattle's Sub Pop Records heard the song, which led him to offer Beam a contract. It was on Sub Pop that his first album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, was released in 2002.
Although Beam recorded primarily on his own, he opted to work under a moniker other than his name, borrowing the branding Iron and Wine from a dietary supplement he discovered while shooting one of his films. So while various collaborators have contributed to his albums and accompanied him in concert, Beam remains the sole musician who can claim the Iron and Wine handle. He released four studio albums, three live efforts, a compilation, and at least a dozen EPs over the past decade. Each is an example of his quiet, introspective stance and the atmospheric ambiance that embraces it. Eventually, his success prompted him to leave South Florida, and he currently resides with his wife, Kim, and their five daughters in a small town on the outskirts of Austin, Texas.
Iron and Wine's reputation can be measured by the critical kudos Beam's received and a steadily growing legion of admirers who have helped increase his following. At the same time, he's made other inroads as well, contributing to several movie soundtracks -- among them Garden State and Twilight -- a number of television shows, including Grey's Anatomy, The L Word and House, and even an advert for M&Ms. Not surprisingly, Iron and Wine has also become a staple on the festival circuit, most notably Bonnaroo, where one of his earliest live albums was recorded in 2005.
Perhaps the greatest affirmation of Iron and Wine's progress thus far lies in the fact that Beam was recruited by Warner Bros., one of the music industry's few remaining majors. The first fruits of this relationship emerged at the beginning of 2011, when Warners released Beam's label debut, Kiss Each Other Clean.
While Iron and Wine is in a category all by itself, a handful of local artists emulate Beam's meditative approach. Although none of them could be labeled a dead ringer, they share the ability to create an atmosphere all their own.
Backstage in South Florida interview with Jim Camacho
Camacho helped steer the Goods in the early '90s and after scoring their major-label debut, he and his bandmates appeared poised for national stardom. Sadly, that promise failed to come to fruition, but that didn't deter Camacho from continuing to pursue his own muse. Both thoughtful and impassioned, Camacho remains a superb singer and songwriter with a knack for carving supple melodies that quickly get under the skin. Like Beam, he evokes a sense of quiet contemplation while bracing those emotions with sounds both rich and radiant.
Wurster plows familiar terrain, often of the Americana variety, but his introspective musings and forlorn rumination often bring to mind the dark designs of Johnny Cash. Yet he offers up similar scenarios to Beam's aural dreamscapes. Even though hopes are sometimes dashed and dreams are far from realized, Wurster continues to persevere. In the midst of his darkest designs, a spectral quality manages to shine through.
Best Songwriter 2011 by New Times Broward Palm Beach
Although he's often more upbeat than the others, Ralston, formerly of the Americana band Legends of the Rodeo, boasts a patchwork and patchouli sensibility that lends itself to a laid-back style. Like Beam, he's a master musician and a superb arranger, clearly capable of realizing his own intentions. Ralston's also been blessed with limited national success, having signed with indie label Vagrant, home to his handful of albums and EPs.
Best Live Band of 2011 by New Times Broward Palm Beach
This brotherly duo sings Beam-like lyrics in a different but similarly hypnotic style. It's as if they were all Civil War vets, squatting 'round a campfire, telling tales of lost loves and folks whose paths they've crossed on creeks or green mountaintops. The Dewars also have a touch of that alt folk that Iron and Wine made enjoyable. Though the band lives in St. Augustine now, they're WPB locals, and you can find them playing around these parts fairly frequently.
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