/self-released; 2002/

rating : 8




more info :

The first time I heard Calexico  -it was a radio broadcast of one of their shows- I instantly fell in love with the music. Traditional and original, a music that deserves the best the label of "American music." The name of the band is half-American, half-Mexican : Calexico (California + Mexico) is a place between Mexico and California, a border town filled with dust, barbed wire and sad stories. Joey Burns and John Convertino are from Tucson, Arizona and are far from being the rednecks you think they could be. Their music is empathic and tolerant, broad-minded pictures of desert landscapes and one of the most humanly kind. On their three full-length label releases, Spoke, The Black Light and Hot Rail, you can find stories of love and death as well as dreamy soundtrack-like instrumentals and less listener-friendly instrumentals. But this is a live album. For each tour they've put up, they have self-released eps or albums, and if you count all of their releases as Calexico -they're also part of Howe Gelb's Giant Sand and seem to be making music with all the cool people around, from Goldfrapp to The New Pornographer's Neko Case- they have released 7 records in 4 years. Not bad. And most of these are filled with impressive material. 

Calexico's music is a combination of several elements. first of all, it sounds like it's out of a time warp from the 50s, apart from some vague and discreet synth echoes. There's John Convertino's delicate and tight jazz drumming and brass instruments played by Mariachis. And there's Joey Burns' voice. Everything sounds vintage here. Even his voice. He has the softest warmest voice I've ever heard. It's already great when you don't pay attention to what he says. But when you really listen to the lyrics it takes you straight into the dusty Mexican streets. You can picture the characters, their distress and their hopes. Joey Burns writes fascinating stories and sings them with a wise soft voice.

I think I should start talking about this album now. This is one of their self-released / tour-only cds, but you can buy it on their website if you want to get it. It's live. And Calexico is one of the best live bands out there. Songs that already are impressive on albums, such as Sonic Wind, Wash or Fade turn into shimmering epic tracks. The music drives you numb and Joey Burn's voice guide you through its rough sandy landscapes. It's fascinating and haunting like Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. There are brighter moments in this album, Lost in Space -one of the few Burns songs out of the OP8 album (feat. Lisa Germano)-, with its upbeat chorus, is like moonlight in a cloudy night

Most songs were recorded in San Francisco on January 2002 but one specific song, Stray, was recorded at the Roskilde Festival in july 2000 with the Mariachi Luz de Luna. Even though the core of the band is Burns and Convertino, there's a lot of people onstage when Calexico plays. One of my very favourites, Crystal Frontier, which sounds like, well, a folk song with a disco beat, ends up as a jazz jam with trumpets and an explosive ending. This is by far one of the best choruses I've heard in a long time. John Convertino's drumming is specially marvelous on this song. Paper Re-Route, the ending track, only features glockenspiel and a ghostly guitar; it starts with Burns blowing softly in the microphone and ends with a music box playing Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose in an overwhelming silence. Calexico's mysteriously attractive music is ready to bewitch you and there's no resistance possible. 

-Barbara H

/sept 15th 2002/