Two albums and three EPs into his career, the man known as Iron and Wine is still plucking songs from his original 2001 home demos, and his latest release is further proof that there's not a clunker in the bunch. On In the Reins, Sam Beam realizes his dream to record with space-age mariachi band Calexico, and the results are nothing short of stunning. While February's Woman King EP saw Beam slightly expanding his arrangements and instrumentation, Reins sees him throwing caution to the wind, allowing Calexico to bring his songs to life with subtle but inventive arrangements that show why it's one of the most skilled ensembles in music today. "He Lays in the Reins" opens the record with Beam's voice floating over the same dusty desert road Calexico has been driving for years, but both acts stretch out stylistically on "A History of Lovers," a piano-spiked strut that proves Beam can rock out when he wants to. And when Calexico's trademark trumpets finally appear halfway through the track, they spit tasty Muscle Shoals grease all over Beam's poppiest tune to date. But Beam proves his old formula still works on "Dead Man's Will," an acoustic lament that will leave you saying "EP of the year" with tears in your eyes.
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