In their most eclectic album to date, Tucson's Calexico (the Giant Sand rhythm section of John Convertino and Joey Burns plus special guests) move beyond the Tex-Mex-meets-Ennio-Morricone instrumentals for which they've become known. While Hot Rail has its share of mariachi flavored tunes--complete with Tijuana Brass inspired trumpet lines--the duo also flirts with tape loops and ambient sounds, as on the plaintive accordion-driven, night-in-the-desert soundscape "Untitled 111," or the tone-bending experimental piece "Mid-Town."
In the tradition of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's Bonnie and Clyde, "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" features Burns trading verses with a Frenchie chanteuse in a western saga of love and betrayal. "Fade" is an almost eight-minute number with neo-jazz drumming, resonating vibes, and a subdued, almost Nick Drake-esque vocal; guest Rob Mazurek's cornet trills tastefully punctuate the song's nouveau lounge languor.
Convertino and Burns have done rhythm section duties for acts as disparate as Victoria Williams, Barbara Manning and Lisa Germano (OP8), and their ability to juggle instrumentation (marimba, vibes, accordion, guitars, cello and percussion) and musical styles results in Hot Rail's evocative, visual style. The album could be a soundtrack to Calexico's private home movie: a desert landscape peopled with the ghosts of railroad workers ("Hot Rail") and betrayed lovers, where the "Sonic Wind" blows over the craters and airplane graveyards left from the Cold War era.