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Tex-mex band mark time
The Hot Press Newsdesk, 21 Sep 2012
Calexico may now qualify as Americana-folk veterans. Having started playing together around 1988, their early works weren’t exactly heavy on old fashioned songs, relying instead on brooding mood-pieces. The Arizona-based band’s lengthy records captured the sun-bleached atmosphere of south-west America’s harsh desert terrain. In their own white man’s blues, with dusty guitar lines beaten out on rickety acoustics and skewered, slide guitar riffs aplenty, they offered the opposite of youthful exuberance. Unsurprising then, that they were chosen to score John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard last year. The filmmaker sought to replicate the feel of the spaghetti western in his west of Ireland-set caper.
The band choose to follow up the instrumentals created for that romp with perhaps their most pop-driven album to date. Algiers offers 12 structured tracks, more focused on melodies and pop sensibilities than much of their previous work. The title references the area of New Orleans where the album was recorded, and the Big Easy’s influences seep in, with flashes of blues, jazz and Cuban rumba all prominent. ‘Sinner In The Sea’, for example, is real Devil’s music, driven by a murky blues guitar line and harnessing rickety piano clinks, twisted keyboard riffs and gentle trombone flutters.
A few other tracks make a similar impression, with the deep acoustic strums of opener ‘Epic’ and sundown ballad ‘Hush’ standing out. But – so far – the album feels oddly unsatisfying. Rather than striving for a deep initial impact, Calexico’s strength has always been their ability to burn slowly into their listener’s consciousness. There is a fear that, too often, on Algiers, they may have fallen between the two stools.