Despite their disparate backgrounds, Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop have managed to make an album that’s both hushed and harmonious, one that finds this, their first dual effort, blurring the lines between the sedate and the seductive. Beam’s no stranger to this approach; his efforts with Iron & Wine (which you can watch in the video below) generally find him dwelling in more cerebral realms. Hoop, on the other hand, has yet to establish an identity with any such distinction; four albums on, she still resides well below the radar.
Happily then, Hoop’s recognition factor is likely to climb significantly. Beam may be the marquee name here, but it’s Hoop’s supple harmonies that give this effort its sense of purpose. Most of these songs rarely rise above a whisper, their dreamy designs and precious approach suggesting a nocturnal feel that’s consistent with a nu-folk noir. Songs like “The Lamb You Lost,” “We Two Are A Moon,” “Every Songbird Says” and “Bright Lights and Goodbyes” keep that consistency intact. Likewise, Hoop’s focused take on “Soft Place To Land” and Beam’s immediate follow-up, “Sailor to Siren,” suggest each of these artists might qualify as dimly-lit folkies if that was indeed their desire. It’s not exactly Gram and Emmylou, but at times the symmetry does come close.
Happily too, Love Letter For Fire isn’t a mere one-note affair. While that general sense of gentle reassurance remains present throughout, it does waver on occasion. The playful call and response that accompanies “Chalk It Up To Chi” manages to vary the template and take the music into somewhat quirkier realms. Likewise, the clip-clop rhythms of “Midas Tongue” and the sing-along sound of “One Way To Pray” help to pick up the pace without losing the subdued sensibility.
At least part of the credit for that consistency ought to go to veteran producer Tucker Martine and the various musicians who aided in the project—Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Iron & Wine keyboard contributor Rob Burger, bassist Sebastian Steinberg of Soul Coughing and Fiona Apple fame, cellist Edward Rankin-Parker from Primus and violinist/viola player Eyvind Kang, who’s worked with The Decemberists. Still, it’s Beam and Hoop who manage to remain the focus of the proceedings, giving the album its low-key lustre. We can only hope that there will be another volume of similarly cerebral hymns to follow.