It's probable that many still think of Tucson, Arizona's Calexico as an indie-rock band dabbling in the fields of country and mariachi music, but so skilfully played and richly textured is Carried to Dust
, the sixth album from Joey Burns and John Convertino's long-running collective, that it feels churlish to think of them as anything less than the real deal. Uniting players including Iron and Wine's Sam Beam, Tortoise's Doug McCombs, Spanish singer-guitarist Amparo Sanchez and Iowa songwriter Pieta Brown, Carried to Dust
forsakes the rockier, somewhat conventional tones of previous album Garden Ruin
, harking back instead to 2003's career high watermark Feast of Wire
. While diverse in genre, crucially it doesn't feel so, Calexico lassoing myriad styles and making them their own. So whether drifting the plains in true mariachi style ("Insparacion"), playing serene lap-steel country ("Hole in Your Hand (Bend in the Road)"), or whipping up a political storm on "Victor Jara's Hand"--tribute to an activist unjustly killed by the Chilean state police in the '70sCarried to Dust
feels both adventurous and comfortable on whatever turf it chooses to walk. Louis Pattison
Hands in the air please for the return of Arizona's number one sons. All the tropes are in place... the brushed rattling percusion, the twangero guitar, the open, desert-evoking sound. And yes, the return of the mariachi blare that so suits the writing of Covertino and Burns. After their disappointingly 'rock' album, Garden Ruin, Calexico have returned to the southern states' alt country that's part-western, part-central American folk and all their own. Thank goodness...
In a year that's seen acts as diverse as Fleet Foxes to Conor Oberst stretch and challenge what the term 'Americana' could contain, this return to form-of-sorts is a timely reminder of how influential Calexico have been. The band's turn at last years Womad festival, with guest star Amparo Sanchez (who appears here), shone out even among the mud and rain. And while Calexico's real strength lies in live performance, Carried To Dust is a gem.
The album does have a loose concept around which it hangs: a screenwriter's search for inspiration in the wide open spaces around La La Land (Writer's Minor Holiday). But there's also room for the political poetry of opener Victor Jara's Hands (Jara was an artist/poet tortured by the Chilean dictatorship) and the pure wiggly Mexicali joy of Inspiracion or the Morricone madness of El Gatillo (Trigger Madness). All of these are guaranteed to sound astounding live.
If there's any reservation here it's because a little too often you get the sense of deja vu. The lyrical imagery and the tumbleweed dryness sails a little close to parody. It's almost as if they've had to emulate themselves to find the way forward again, the melodies not leaping out as smartly as they might. And sometimes you long for the more outre weirdness that filled the gaps on earlier classics such as Feast Of Wire. But frankly, something this good shouldn't be sniffed at. Calexico are back on track. Cause for celebration, indeed. --Dennis O'Dell
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