It’s not often that a musical artist is able to stray from the sound that made them famous only to return to it years later, as though they had never left. Iron & Wine, the musical moniker used by Sam Beam, proves though, that it is possible with his latest album Beast Epic, his sixth full-length album.

While Beam’s most previous releases weren’t terrible – in fact, 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean reached number two on the Billboard 200 – they were, by and large, departures from the stripped-down folk sound he helped define in the early 2000s.

But it is just that sound that he returns to with Beast Epic, the first album Beam has released on Sub Pop Records since Kiss Each Other Clean, which was released through Warner Bros. From the opening seconds of the album, Beam can be heard whispering the song’s count into the microphone, tapping his guitar into rhythm.

On the opening track, “Claim Your Ghost,” there are several moments when all instrumentation stops, and the listener is left alone with a subdued but emotional Beam singing, “The garden grows into our street / We’re holding the blossoms up high / Killers let go.” Afterwards, the song swells to any folk music fan’s dream – light drums, harmonizing vocals, a string section, and a twanging guitar.

With the bare-bones instrumentation on Beast Epic, Beam is also able to again highlight his strong songwriting skills. There is a profound sense of nature on the album as Beam mentions everything from birds in the morning, to weeds, to summer clouds, to moonlight.

The album’s first single, “Call It Dreaming,” serves as a bridge for those fans of Beam’s past several releases and those who are more fans of his earliest albums. It is by far the most full song and easily the one that sounds best on the radio.

But for the most part, Beast Epic is a return to the soft sound, best suited for autumn, which brought Iron & Wine to prominence. But unlike those first records, this newest release is far cleaner and more refined than albums like The Creek Drank the Cradle or The Sea & The Rhythm. In doing so, though, Beast Epic looses some of the raw emotion so heavily present earlier in Beam’s career.

Nevertheless, Beam proves to all that, although challenging, it is possible to go back strong to the sound that made you, something very few others have done.