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Calexico Vs. Iron & Wine

| December 1, 2005 | 0 Comments

The Quiet Men

Calexico have worked with nearly everyone. While four albums in eight years displays a modest pace, the way principal players Joey Burns and John Convertino hog space in liner notes at your local Sam Goody is borderline embarrassing. For a time it seemed they would keep to their own circle of friends (Neko Case, Howe Gelb/Giant Sand, Richard Buckner), though the recent past has them TexMexing Nancy Sinatra and U.K. dancefloor wraith Allison Goldfrapp.

Yet eyes really perked up when news made the rounds that Calexico hooked up with Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, last year for the In The Reins mini album. In a year that has had its share of intriguing blind dates — notably Common with Kanye West, DJ Danger Mouse with MF Doom, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes — this is the least sexy (although it would be funny to hear of a Norteño horn blast going off while Beam whispers another Fleetwood Mac-on-demerol verse). It was a meeting of track records that must have caught peoples’ attentions.

According to Burns, the dialogue was sparked by Chicagoan Howard Greynolds, who has worked for Thrill Jockey Records while also pursuing his own label, Overcoat, which released In The Reins. “[Greynolds] is the one responsible 2016 for getting us signed to Touch And Go, put out a 7-inch of Calexico’s a long time ago. This idea has been working in the pipe for a long time and it finally came to fruition. We had to wait around to get schedules coordinated and stuff. Sam had the lyrics and the music already written. But he wanted to change things up, and as I’ve gotten to know him, he really enjoys doing that. He enjoys taking a song on tour and he’ll change the versions. Different tempos, sometimes different keys, different feel, and I love that. If we do a radio show, he’ll make it different than the way we play it live at the club with the whole band and the big pieces.”

While not nearly as subdued as Iron & Wine’s last two albums, anyone looking for a sonic kick in the pants will be disappointed. Burns and Convertino — along with longtime associates Martin Wenk and Volker Zander — exercise restraint in pulling rabbits from the spaces in Beam’s songs. A mix of pedal steel and Dobro on “Sixteen, Maybe Less” feels like gliding your Young fingers through a silky mane, while muted trumpet during “Burn That Broken Bed” pushes a sultry dawn forward an hour to where you can’t tell if the sun is on its way down or up.

“Well, usually when people have their own songs they have a pretty clear idea of what they want,” he explains. “And you’re just helping them realize that goal. Sometimes, in that case, space is always better. You really allow that singer-songwriter to fully express themselves. The more stuff you put in there, the more it blocks their vision for getting through. So things like phrasing are really important. You try to structure things so that the phrasing is more regimented rather than more contoured timewise to their own inner time. Everyone has their own way of phrasing things, their own wholesale jerseys pace. The way they talk or sing, the way they emphasize certain words in a phrase for melody. So we really try to listen intently to where each person’s coming from.”

So in retrospect, it’s clear Calexico only cheap jerseys paint everywhere but the canvas on their Day own albums. Those Buckner discs, Barbara Manning . . . were a lot, in approach, like In The Reins.

“It’s funny,” Burns muses, “on this project, when we had gotten the demos and spoken with Sam and Howard, the songs were just gonna be John and I and Sam and then we would fill out overdubs amongst ourselves. Since the band was all in Tucson, getting ready to go on tour with Wilco at the time of recording, we merely thought, ‘Let’s get Paul [Niehaus] in here because a lot of this material screams for pedal steel.’ So Sam and I got together with Paul before going into the studio and [Sam] said, ‘Yeah, I kind of want to try some of these songs differently than the demo. So hacked ‘He Lays In The Rein,’ let’s try that in 6/8.’ I love that time signature, John loves it, and played the shit out of it on the drums and his brushes. I knew instantly it would be a very cheap nfl jerseys easy song to cut just based on the 6/8 time signature.”

Part of what makes Calexico such a frequent target for collaborations is their adaptability. On the surface, their reputation of Spaghetti Western-loving banditos is exactly that: a calling card, a tagline to pique curiosity. “I think there’s been quite a few records that have that [Southwestern] element in it,” Burns says. “People have to start somewhere. Not everybody is a music journalist and has a vast knowledge of different styles of music or genres or characteristics of music. So, they have a starting place. I can think of far worse labels to be called.”

He continues, “Ennio Morricone [the Italian composer cheap jerseys to whom Calexico are often compared] is vast; he doesn’t always do the same things. Right there, I feel pretty good. He’s the maestro, man. He’s great. But it’s not all that we are, for sure. I’m just as influenced by Bob Dylan — probably more so Bob Dylan than I am Ennio Morricone. But I’m sure you ask these questions and you get the same answers all the time. People have a hard time with labels. And I do [too] to a certain point, but at the end of the day you have to start somewhere. For somebody that’s never heard the music, just as much ?????????????????????????????? as Sam “File” hates being referred to as being similar to Nick Drake or Bob Dylan, he has to deal with it because the way we focus on singer-songwriters and acoustic Knipser-Glück, music. And it’s a starting place. People that really listen will find whole, vast, reverse influences beyond one description.”

Where Calexico go next is anyone’s guess. In The Reins was recorded around the time the Convict Pool (Quarterstick/Touch And Go) arrived with an uncharacteristically straight cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or.” One begins to sense that time to do such a thing as another album has as much value as material for one.

“A lot of times, I know with myself, I kind of work backwards. It’s hard to,” Burns pauses, “I usually go to the studio fresh, just write songs in the studio. So if I come up cheap nba jerseys with a series of chords, an idea for a song, it may not be finished completely — lyrics and melodies and arrangements. I don’t have a home studio. When I come in, sometimes it’s hard for other musicians — except for John Convertino, who has a great sense of phrasing and knows me, knows my style, and has a well versed style as well. We work really well in that. We can map out the basic structure of a song and have the end result with all the arranging and overdubs and instruments that are added on later, they usually fit pretty darn well. That has a lot to do with John being a good drummer.”

Forget the smokescreen of all their arrangement credits. The most fruitful collaboration has been Burns and Convertino.

“I was at a studio called Mad Dog Studios and Giant Sand was mixing a record called Swerve,” Burns recalls of when they met. “I was hanging out and wanted to meet the guys. John had come in — a couple hours late, he had gotten lost — and I remember thinking ‘This guy is a flake.’

“He’s probably one of the most amazing individuals I’ve met in my whole life.”

Steve Forstneger

Appearing: December 11 at Congress Theatre (2135 N. Milwaukee) in Chicago.

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