Calexico, Hot Rail

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Hot Rail

Future country-rockers get dirty and wonderfully dreary early on.

A bleary Tijuana bar band blanched by the blistering sun, Arziona's Calexico manage to cut straight down to the darkness bubbling at the center of country music. Hot Rail contains all of their strengths in one arid, ominous package. Opener "El Picador" is a bit of bloodshot mariachi, horns blowing full-tilt; just a few minutes later, though, they're hushed and haunted, throwing shadows across the grim expanse of "Fade" and "Untitled III." That Calexico can veer so effortlessly between both extremes is a testament to their versatility. Their music — at this point — was guided by the same experimental undercurrent that powers, say, Rachel's or the Sea and Cake. But instead of finding an outlet for their imagination in jazz, they push against the borders of country, nortena and ranchera. They never come off as overworked or undercooked. They're not dilettantes — they're a gang of grim, drifting cowboys for whom no place feels like home.