Take a twist of the Wild Bunch and some ghosts from The Alamo, wash down with tequila, then fall asleep on the back porch. That music you can hear drifting through your dreams is from Calexico, who christened themselves after a town on the border between California and Mexico. Their music is an intoxicatingly vivid evocation of the mythology of the American west and its Hispanic heritage, and Feast Of Wire lays down an optimistically early marker as one of the albums of the year.
From the opening cantina two-step of “Sunken Waltz”, you’re transported to a place where the sun is hot enough to bake bricks and there’s always a couple of mangy dogs in the shade. The nucleus of Calexico is drummer John Convertino and multi-instrumentalist and singer Joey Burns, but the duo act as musical traffic cops, marshalling a small army of sympathetic collaborators.
You’ve been here before, but never quite like this. “Black Heart” lifts off in a Portishead-like shimmer of distortion and woozy violins, before opening out into a sullen epic of space and distance. “Close Behind” thunders across the prairie like a Pony Express rider with a war party on his tail and arrows wedged in his Stetson, strings and mariachi trumpets arching across pedal steel and Convertino’s bustling percussion. “Across The Wire (Widescreen)” finds Burns hijacking Marty Robbins, narrating a classic border ballad bristling with trumpets, accordion and Spanish guitar (“He spotted an eagle in the middle of a lake, resting on cactus and feasting on snakes”).
But there’s more to the Calexicans than leftovers from a campfire. Ennio Morricone’s deadpan surrealism floats over the horizon like a mirage, and many a minimalist composer will be picking apart “The Book And The Canal”. “Dub Latina” fans out across Latin America, and “No Doze” ends the disc in an eerie mist of drones and roaring percussion. “Crumble” fuses Gil Evans-style piercing horn with the feral rumble of Charles Mingus’ Tijuana Moods, embellished by Nick Luca’s jazz guitar. And apart from all that, Calexico’s world is big enough for the classic heartbreaker-pop of “Not Even Stevie Nicks… “, in all its wondrousness. Saddle up, it’s showtime.