Rhythm & Views


As advance copies of Calexico's new release find their way to music critics across the globe, so begins a writer's struggle to coin a new take on the clichéd "desert noir" catchphrase frequently used to describe the Tucson-based band. Sonoran svengalis ? Border-shuffling charlatans? Avant- crèpe cowboys?

Through the band's evolution as a duo in 1997 to its current six-piece status, Calexico's shtick has always been that its culture-co-opting sound defied all genres. However, following Calexico's 2005 breakthrough collaboration with Iron and Wine, In the Reins, the band's next effort, 2006's Garden Ruin, trimmed the improvisational fat and abandoned anything resembling "mariachi rock." While sustaining the newfound Reins audience, the mainstream Ruin alienated many longtime fans.

For Ruin's follow-up, Carried to Dust, Joey Burns and John Convertino crafted Dust's tracks as a duo before recording with the full band and a host of guest players, resulting in the group's most solid, focused and eclectic effort since 2003's Feast of Wire. While retaining the foundation of Calexico's trademark sound within its ambitious efforts, Dust succeeds in furthering the band's reach without compromising its dark, cinematic character.

Dust is full of lively grooves ("Inspiracion") and dead-end vibes ("Contention City"); whistling high plains drifters ("El Gatillo [Trigger Revisited]") and lap-steel sunsets ridin' double ("Slowness"); sparkling chimes of an oasis ("Two Silver Trees") and the chill of the dead earth ("Red Blooms"). Dust reminds fans why they fell in love with these charlatans, and leaves them looking forward to the many trips across the border to come.