By Sam Tornow, Editorial Director
[Sub Pop; 2016]
Key Tracks: “One Way to Pray,” “Chalk It Up to Chi,” “Soft Place to Land”
Artist collaborations are a touchy subject. The end result is either fantastic, or a crash and burn (no pun intended). For folk fans, a collab between Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop is a wet dream waiting to happen, and luckily for listeners, Love Letter for Fire doesn’t completely fluster. It doesn’t exactly soar either, however.
The equation seems almost too good to be true. A traditional yet extremely talented folk artist like Beam, combined with an iconic experimental folk artist like Hoop should produce many great songs. However, the results aren’t as reaching as they should be. Most tracks on the album feel as if they’d have a better home on a new Iron and Wine album, and that’s not bad, but it’s not what we’re looking for. For instance, most of the album is some whimsical fingerpicking by Beam, covered up by a gentle cooing duet. And while that’s all good and fun, we could get the same experience by watching any of Beam’s live performances with a backup singer.
The expectations were not completely for waste, though. Tracks such as “One Way to Pray,” “Chalk it Up to Chi” and “Soft Place to Land” offer up a healthy blend of each of the artist’s’ signature sounds, creating the experimental, twangy sounds audience members were sure to be expecting.
“Chalk it Up to Chi” in particular shows what this album could’ve been: Hoop’s brilliant experimental melodies combined with Beam’s dusty guitar and percussion work. The song feels fresh and almost sounds out of place in the middle of the album, surrounding by nearly 12 other more traditional sounding tracks.
If Love Letter for Fire was just a project created by any ‘ole folk duo, it would merit a better response, but for two of the strongest voices in the game, it feels a lot like Lulu (okay, nothing is actually as bad as Lulu, but you get the point). Another attempt by Beam and Hoop would still be welcomed with open arms, but there certainly wouldn’t be as much hype surrounding it.