Sam Beam, the Miami cinematography professor-turned-neo folk sensation?known better by his stage name, Iron and Wine?has collaborated with the Arizona-based alternative group Calexico to create a seven-song EP entitled In the Reins.

Beam, who became a cult sensation in 2002 with the release of his first album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, quickly solidified his title as champion of the folk-lullaby sound with subsequent releases The Sea and the Rhythm (EP) and Our Endless Numbered Days (LP).

In the Reins, on the other hand, demonstrates a different application of Beam's haunting, somnolent voice. Unlike Creek, S&R and Days, in which Beam rarely used more than two instruments per song and didn't use any percussion beyond stifled strums of a rhythmic guitar line, Reins features a much larger full-band sound. In some ways, this new sound follows as an extension of Beam's experimentation with different kinds of percussion and instrumentation on his most recent EP, Woman King.

But even the diversity of background elements on Woman King doesn't properly prepare Iron and Wine votaries for Reins. Woman King's success is attributable to the creativity with which Beam blended new instrumental aspects in songs such as "Woman King" and "Evening on the Ground." The use of background instruments on Reins, on the other hand, is shockingly conventional. Most of its songs employ a normal drum kit, and the various string instruments and horns follow basic chords progressions in relative synchronization.

The first track, "He Lies in the Reins," sets the stage immediately for the tone of the album. We hear the drums lay a beat heavier than anything we have heard before on an Iron and Wine song, and notice that there's something inharmonic about a snare drum's relationship with distinct timbre of Beam's voice. At the same time, the minimalist piano and the sad poetry of the lyrics remind us why we bought the album. "One more gift to bring / we may well find you laid / like your steed in his reins / tangled too tight and too long to fight," he whispers.

"History of Lovers" displays the biggest break in style for Beam. While the other tracks retain at least some of Iron and Wine's folk sensibilities, this one is pretty much straight country pop. The horns, like the snare drum, create unsettling sonic friction with Beam's voice.

The intro and outro melody of "Red Dust" sounds suspiciously like Iron and Wine's "Freedom Hangs like Heaven." In between, the musicians jam southwestern-style, another novelty for Iron and Wine fans.

"Burn that Broken Bed" represents the most equitable stylistic compromise between the album's two authors. With the bluesy, film noir-ish horns and wistful strings of loneliness and plodding vagrancy, this song captures Calexico's desperation and angst. At the same time, Beam's soft crooning makes the song's bleak lyrics?which portray a deserted man clinging to the hope that his lover will return home to make amends?feel oddly comforting.

But the greatest triumph of the album is certainly its final track, "Dead Man's Will." Sung in gospel harmony, this is a peaceful hymn about a dead man's wishes for his family and friends. "May my love reach you all / I lost it in myself and buried it too long / Now that I've come to fall / please say it's not too late now that I'm dead and gone." This song is humble and simple, finally resolving the stolid melancholy of the majority of the album. It ranks among Beam's best ever.

In the Reins is nothing if it is not bold. Iron and Wine fans who celebrate the simplicity of Creek and Days should stay away at the risk of being alienated, for this new album finds Beam largely in the reins of Calexico's southwestern, indie sound.