Distancing himself even further from the intense Nick Drake-esque folk troubadour he presented himself as on 2002 debut The Creek Drank the Cradle, South Carolina singer-songwriter Samuel Beam, aka Iron and Wine, has decided to lighten the mood with his fifth studio album, Ghost on Ghost.

There’s still the odd sense of foreboding throughout its 12 earthy, organic tracks, none more so than on “Winter Prayers,” an achingly sad stripped-back ballad which hints at a riverside tragedy involving a former lover: [LISTEN]

Hollow trees, talk of hand
All the neckties are toasting with empty cans
And you know why she’s gone
Clothes in the river, drifting on

But the follow-up to 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean largely backs up Beam’s claims that he’s now moved away from his usual anxious tension. The mellow Americana of “Joy” [LISTEN] might just be the most optimistic track he’s ever recorded as he pays tribute to the wife and children who have rescued him from a life of bitterness, while a similar loved-up state of mind is displayed on the languid folk-pop of “Low Light Buddy of Mine” and the country-tinged closer “Baby Center Stage:”

Deep inside the heart of this crazy mess
I’m only calm when I get lost within your well darkness
Born crooken as a creek now you’ve come to contest
That you’ve been bringing me joy

Joined by various members of Bob Dylan‘s backing band, Antony And The Johnsons and Tin Hat Trio, the warm vibes also extend to Brian Deck’s production, which successfully recaptures the AOR sounds of the mid-70s, from the wistful Carpenters-style lounge-pop of “The Desert Babbler” to the twinkling soft-rock of “New Mexico’s No Breeze,” the latter of which sees Beam look back nostalgically on a summer romance:

God gave you red light
On every green road sign when you left Santa Fe
We were two strange beings
You were too 19
You were blowing away

The unexpected ventures into Motown (“Grace For Saints and Ramblers”) [LISTEN] and silky smooth jazz fusion (“Caught In The Briars”) are just as tailor-made for long drives across the West Coast, and although fans of his more miserablist fare may be slightly confused by his new-found sunny disposition, Beam certainly won’t be the only one who will view Ghost on Ghost as a reward.