It's true what they say: the mongrel Southwestern vibe that Calexico exudes is so thick it blows over a person like a desert wind carrying grit and dust along with the tumbleweeds. The duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino, with various guests filling out the sound, do more than just transport the listener to their native region around Tucson, Ariz.; they combine various styles that mix well with each other: mariachi, surf, Tex-Mex, the dark lyrical balladry of folks like Nick Cave, etc. This synthesis of Mexican roots music with rock's edge started with Burns' and Convertino's work in Giant Sand with Howe Gelb, and shows no signs of letting up (Giant Sand had an all covers record this year, and Calexico has a new full-length coming in February 2003).
What's most impressive about Calexico, with such a signature sound, is their unabashed curiosity and willingness to experiment. They've swapped remixes with British breakbeat duo Two Lone Swordsmen, and played house band for pop maven Jenny Toomey's recent record of Franklin Bruno's songs. They covered post-punk icons the Minutemen ("Little Man with a Gun in his Hand") for a recent 7-inch, while still contributing to more predictable alliances like country/pop chanteuse Neko Case's new one.
In vibrant, uptempo numbers that provoke hoots and hollers, Burns and Convertino contemplate serious social issues like the plight of immigrants in the Southwest, or simply wail through lost love and heartache, the vocals set against a blanket of guitar, marimba, accordion, or cello. It's a marriage of sounds that, like most good music, is best experienced live. You'll get your chance at the Cat's Cradle Saturday, Nov. 2. Joining Calexico on this tour is the like-minded Black Heart Procession, with their sad, smoky-flavored sound turned upbeat a notch on recent material. Don't miss this one.