It’s absurd to suggest that all music reflects the geographic location in which it was recorded. But Calexico’s sound is so regionally evocative that they even took the name from a town near the US/Mexican border. It’s the perfect handle for their alt-country-informed blend of desert blues, spaghetti western soundtracks, ’50s/’60s surf-rock and music from across the Latin-American spectrum – a compelling and highly distinctive hybrid that has almost become a genre in its own right.
All the more surprising then, that for the recording of their seventh LP Calexico relocated to New Orleans, specifically to its Algiers neighborhood. But there’s no swampy funk, jazz, Cajun two-step or Creole boogie here. Rather, pump organ, Moog, keys and Venezuelan cuatro guitar blend with their usual guitar/upright bass/drums set-up and beloved accordion, brass and pedal-steel, to create songs brimming with the band’s trademark sensual drama, but which see them subtly shifting ground.
Opener “Epic” is swarthy and insistent with a great pop groove and the muscular “Splitter” could well satisfy Springsteen fans, while it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine more adventurous Kings Of Leon devotees warming to “Maybe On Monday.” With an international guest list of empathetic instrumentalists and vocalists, Calexico have delivered a record as strong, soulful and surprising as their adopted city itself. Not bad, 22 years on.