Calexico, California. A border town bridging the line between the state of California and the country of Mexico. With just 6.2 sq. miles of space it encompasses a split population of whites and latinos and was converted from a bone-dry desert region. The city annually plays host to the Mariachi festival and the Perspective of the Latino Race art exhibition.
A brief reflection on these factoids relays almost everything you need to know about the band who've taken the city of Calexico as their namesake. They are very much a band on the border, fusing elements of Mexican music, western folk all wrapped inside a nostalgia for the turn of the (20th) century.
The first thing that strikes you about "Carried to Dust" is its adeptness as conjuring impressive visuals within the mind's eye of the listener. From the soaring eagle gazing down to the scorched yellow sand punctuated only by the briefest indication of life to the turn of the wooden wheel as it traipses over the parched sand as it emits the rough stench of stale, dry air with the disturbance of each molecule. Each moment is so vivid that you can practically taste it, not that you'd want to by the sound of it.
Many people will be thankful to the duo of primary songwriters John Convertino and Joey Burns for taking the project back into a world of eccentricity. While 2006's "Garden Ruin" was well-received, if not raved about, it disappointed fans for its laying aside of the band's more experimental nature and greater focus on mainstream appeal. Those people can take solace in the return to a confusing twisted take on a number of well-travelled genres. One which mish-mashes a veritable myriad of styles and results in one of the most startlingly original, yet instantaneously familiar sounding albums of the year.
Making use of pianos, violins, harps, vihuela, guitarrÃ³n, trumpets, various guitars and an impressive cast of guest vocalists including Iron and Wine front-man Sam Beam, Doug McCombs of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day as well as contemporary folk songstress Pieta Brown, Calexico bring us a world thick with colour, based around a jaded Los Angeles man's quest to find his muse out in the deserted silence of isolation.
Vocalist Joey Burns has a lamentatious which actually requires little of the back-up which is thrown behind him. Although the effective male/female duets between himself and Prieta Brown do provide some of the album's more touching moments, "Slowness" immediately comes to mind in this regard.
For a band so deeply mired in the past, it is perhaps a pity that it's their lyricism which carries to sole contemporary appeal of the album. Using little in the way of the musical progression of the last century to their advantage the only thing they have to prove its birth within the 21st century is the starkly precise and crisp production. As a throwback to the music which inspired several generations and ethnicities though, this is as applaudable as it is refreshing.