Multi-instrumentalist Joey Burns and his Calexico compadre John Convertino unleash their fourth studio album – and it is as evocative as anything the bordertown Arizona boys have done. With a name that combines CALifornia and mEXICO, there’s plenty of space for incredible landscapes, amazing soundscapes and one or two surprises along the way.
Slide guitars and intricate percussion vie for space with trumpets on an album that has “soundtrack” writ large all over it – including song titles like Quattro (World Drifts In) and Across The Wire (Widescreen). Occasional interruptions to this instrumental record come from Burns’ admittedly unexceptional tenor drawl, and his voice is at its best on simple numbers like the endearing Not Even Stevie Nicks.
But it’s the instrumental numbers that are the most evocative, especially Close Behind, with its mix of slide guitars, trumpets, string sections and percussion which, when combined, comes over as the soundtrack to a thousand westerns. You can almost see the cactii and cowboys – for this is one of the album’s stand-out tracks.
On The Book And The Canal, echo-laden arpeggiated piano and strings combine to mildly sinister effect. And the absurdly named Attack El Robot! Attack! mixes electronic effects, prominent drum beats, off-the-wall trumpet parps, acoustic guitar and tinkling percussion sounds to create a soundscape of peculiar dimensions. Elsewhere, Dub Latina even adds a vibraphone the mix before giving way to the fabulous Guero Canelo, which features vocal choruses and distorted baritone over a swaying, Caribbean feel.
There’s even space for a nod and a wink to jazz here, with the penultimate track Crumble. It’s simply superb musicianship.
There are no strikingly obvious singles here, but then we’re talking about a Calexico album after all, a work of art that needs to be taken not in snippets but as a soul-cleansing whole. When’s the next flight to Phoenix, anyone?