Although the current crew of indie country-rockers wrap themselves in hoodies at the first sign of danger, hangover country began with the very un-twee Kris Kristofferson and, in particular, his amazing "Sunday Morning Coming Down." That epochal track — perhaps best performed by Johnny Cash — was about hard living; Iron & Wine and their ilk are about hard-dreaming, a softer tack that inspires introspection more than romance, lethargy more than legend. Yet the same dissatisfaction underlies the music of each: alienation, loneliness, an emotional homelessness that can't be scratched. Rather than scare up trouble, Iron and Wine's Sam Beam reacts to this malaise by growing a beard of biblical proportions and hushing his S.O.S. to the world into a microphone.
This collaboration with Calexico — two Arizona dudes partially responsible for Giant Sand and Friends of Dean Martinez — falls consistently in line with Iron & Wine's two previous albums, primarily because Beam is the chief songwriter here, with Calexico coloring the compositions in arid hues, as in "Burn That Broken Bed," which sounds like something from the Short Cuts score. (Perhaps it's just the shapelessness of Calexico's music — which I like, by the way — but they come off as more of a backing band than collaborators.)
"He Lays in the Reins" and "Dead Man's Will" could have appeared on Our Endless Numbered Days (I&W's solid 2004 album), and only "Red Dust," my favorite track, pushes the envelope. It's very Creedence with its boogie strut, and the presence of an actual rhythm feels revolutionary within the context of an otherwise languid EP. The sad stuff's great and everything, but there's nothing like a boot-scootin 'boogie to shake the cobwebs out.