I first heard Calexico when they opened for Arcade Fire at the MTS Centre in September. While nobody could steal the show from a band with as much live presence as Arcade Fire, Calexico came as about as close as any band could. They played a really tight set, compete with horns, steel guitar, glockenspiel, and great drumming. I immediately went home and put their name on my “Albums to buy” list, and when my brother gave me an iTunes gift card for Christmas (thanks, Justin!), I promptly downloaded Calexico’s fifth album, Garden Ruin (2006). And in my present cash-strapped state, I daily resist the urge to download more of their albums.
Calexico started in the late 90s in Tuscon, Arizona and have released six consistently good LPs, as well as a critically acclaimed EP with Iron & Wine. Their sound is very diverse and incorporates rock, folk, mariachi, Latin, and alt country. In short, you can really tell they grew up near the Mexican border (sometimes when I’m listening to Calexico I get hungry for tacos). Some albums incorporate more of these genres than others, so if you don’t care for the songs below, chances are you’d still be able to find an album you do enjoy. Lead singer Joey Burns sounds exactly like a cross between an early Bob Dylan (think Highway 61 Revisited) and Dan Haseltine from Jars of Clay (not surprisingly, they’ve covered a couple Dylan tunes and have appeared on the I’m Not There soundtrack).
What I love most about Calexico is their beautiful, layered instrumentation. They play with a wonderful awareness of each other’s part, and they know when to exercise restraint and when to really build a song. They craft the sort of songs that sneak up on you after a few listens.
Anyway, without further adieu, here are a couple Calexico tracks. “Cruel” is the opening track from Garden Ruin. The second video is a bueatiful live outdoor acoustic version of “The News About William” from their latest album, Carried to Dust. Dig that guitar riff.