Calexico - Edge of the Sun

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2015-04-14

Some may think of Calexico as a band of two very distinct sides. The West Coast influence, and the adopted frontier sounds of Tucson, Arizona mixed with latino heritage. Classic Americana, and the more experimental, latin/mariachi template.

With occasional jazz flourishes, particularly in the airy brush-drumming of John Convertino, all the components combine to transport the listener to an imaginary culture, where festive horns, sweet melodies, spanish guitars, pedal steel and jazz drumming coalesce together. Really though, it’s just the highly imaginative writing of two very savvy musicians.

Joey Burns and John Convertino, when they left Giant Sand, formed Friends of Dean Martin, which later became Friends of Dean Martinez, sans Burns and Convertino, but the love affair with the fused sounds of indie and jazz seemed to begin there, and culminated in 1995 with the album Spoke, a series of border-country vignettes sounding as much field recording as desert soundtrack. 

The first sign of the classic Calexico sound arrived with Hot Rail, the crystallisation of the spaghetti western influence, the mariachi and the indie, into a sound as sun-drenched as the title suggested. Although wearing those influences heavily, Joey Burns was still capable of writing a song like ‘Service and Repair’, pure indie-Americana, expertly contrasted against the instrumental forays.

Calexico went on to release many albums, venturing their full ensemble onto great road trips, across the USA, Europe and Australasia, playing in bars, but also in the Barbican Centre. They released many promotional recordings along the way, live in concert, and at one point allowing some soundboard recordings to be posted on the legitimate Internet Music Archive site, including the mightily impressive Live on the White Stage in Roskilde in 2000.

The Calexico tour EPs and albums were also collected in the wonderful, and now seemingly unavailable, Road Atlas 1998-2011 (unless you pay $630 for the vinyl, or buy the highlights package). These odd and sods recordings are precious, the experimental jams, the moody instrumentals, the weird Americana.

The last album, Algiers, was accompanied in the deluxe version by the live recording, Spiritoso, which was absolutely superb, balancing tracks from that album with some judicious selections from the back-catalogue. Similarly, it seems Edge of the Sun will appear as a deluxe edition, with seven additional tracks. Are you a real Calexico fan? Chances are then that you’ll own up to 50 separate recordings.

So, what of Edge of the Sun? This album leans more towards the Americana sound, and does so with the usual elan, and the extra dimension of contributions from the likes of Neko Case ('Tapping on the Line'), and Sam Beam ('Bullets and Rocks'). Both of these musicians have collaborated with John Convertino on their respective solo works.

Neko Case provides vocal support to Burns of a sparing but illuminating nature, in keeping with her vocal contributions with The New Pornographers. Her voice doesn't soar so much as splice through Burns's tasteful light tenor, adding both a touch of class and enchantment.

There are two striking instrumentals in 'Cumbria de Donde' and 'Coyoacan', the second of which is a Spanish-inflected tune in warm symmetry with many a Los Lobos piece. It's a beautiful thing. 'Cumbria de Donde' is full of festive cheer, Mexicana style, and is every bit as good as 'Minas De Cobre', for those familiar with The Black Light. Elsewhere, there is some wonderful augmentation brought by Greg Leitz's pedal steel, the vocals of Amparo Sanchez and Gaby Moreno, and instrumental support from Greek musicians, Takim.

Essential on your next road trip.

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