It must be frustrating, confining, and sad to be a teen star — rather, to have been a teen star. Your audience comes to adore you and fixes you in their minds just the way they love you, just the way you are. Or just the way you used to be. When you grow, change, and evolve, well, that's just unacceptable. It's little wonder so many who hit the big time early have struggled with audience expectations and why so many have turned to chemical therapies. I wonder whether Sam Beam feels the same way, sometimes. Not about the self-medication, but about audience expectations. He wasn't a teenager when he broke out (after seven years of writing songs in relative secrecy), but he made such a strong impression with his 2002 Iron & Wine debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, that it became hard for people to not think of him as the quiet, sad, sensitive, and hushed singer/songwriter. But Beam's had a decade to grow, change, and evolve, and he's done so in exceedingly rewarding ways. His fourth and newest full-length album, last January's Kiss Each Other Clean, is a swell release. It boldly swings and sings, elaborating on a full sound hinted at in 2007's The Shepherd's Dog, with a humble pop majesty reminiscent of Paul Simon's sunny '70s forays, the scalding desert blues of his compadres in Calexico (some members appear on the album), and even some Crazy Horse-style drone rock. Maybe Beam wonders about getting pegged, but it doesn't sound that way. The guy's songs seems unfussy. Free. Happy.
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