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Saturday 3 December 2016

Calexico

One of the most durable and intriguing bands to come out of the Americas in the last decade or more is the Tucson fusion-fixated combo Calexico.

It's been a long strange trip from playing with Howie Gelb in Giant Sand in the early 1990s to where they are today, poised to find an even wider audience with this new 12-track set.

But John Convertino (drums) and Joey Burns (multi-instrumentalist) have kept the engine purring through eight studio albums and the superb mini-album In the Reins with Iron & Wine.

Curiously, Calexico have created soundtracks that echo that nebulous space where the desert dust blows into the urban landscape. From tumbleweeds to peyote, rocks to skylines, they extract music from the secret life of the most unlikely terrain.

While initially exciting, attempting to infuse rock'n'roll with the flavourings of other musical styles can often lead musicians into a stylistic cul-de-sac. Calexico seem to have surmounted the obstacles. At least for now.

Certainly, there's a sense that this collection has taken them to a destination when it might have been expected that they'd run out of gas and wind up stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

Despite the name, borrowed from a border town in southern California, Calexico create the sound of a band from nowhere. And that's always a good place to start from. Even when you don't know where you're heading.

"Where do you fall when you have no place to go?" they sing on Falling From the Sky, an opening track with a vintage pop-rock feel that's going to fit well on radio. Kinda like Bruce Springsteen without the bellowing as Burns and Ben Bridwell harmonise.

The Mexican influence is still in the mix like a ghost in the machine. Stabbed through with mariachi horns and gut-string guitars, the sultry instrumental Coyoacan rattles like a desert snake's tail.

But Calexico aren't slaves to any one musical ideology. Cumbia De Donde is a glorious Latin American swing ensemble piece with Mexican rocker Carla Morrison giving it loads.

She's not the only guest on Edge of the Sun. Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), Neko Case and Amparo Sanchez are among those who contribute to a wonderfully textured collection. Some instrumentalists from Greek band Takim help embellish the moody World Undone.

When The Angels Play has a mythic Dylan feel with pedal-steel guitar. And, bizarrely Moon Never Rises could be a chart hit for UB40 if Jerry Dammers was in the band.

By the time Calexico play the Olympia on May 4, this could have become their biggest album yet.

(City Slang)

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