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Calexico

Fittingly named after a town on the border of California and Mexico, Calexico fuse the dusty sounds of the American Southwest with spaghetti western soundtracks, cool jazz, and a broad spectrum of Latin influences. Early on, the group delivered this mix of musical approaches and cultural perspectives with theatrical flair, as on 1998's The Black Light. Gradually, their style became more nuanced, with 2003's Feast of Wire and 2006's Garden Ruin venturing into more straightforward songwriting and 2010's Algiers folding New Orleans traditions into their music seamlessly. Calexico's knack for capturing the sound and feel of a place continued to shine on albums as distinct as 2015's Mexico City dispatch The Edge of the Sun and 2022's El Mirador, a heartfelt tribute to the sounds and people that make up the band's roots. Calexico's story begins in 1990, when bassist Joey Burns, a music student at the University of California Irvine, met percussionist John Convertino, who was playing drums with Howe Gelb's long-running band Giant Sand. Burns soon signed on to play bass with Giant Sand on a tour of Europe, and then relocated to Giant Sand's home base of Tucson, Arizona. During downtime from Giant Sand's projects in 1993, Burns and Convertino teamed with guitarists Billy Elm and Woody Jackson to form the Friends of Dean Martinez, a group that fused lounge-influenced pop melodies with the musical flavors of the Southwest. Following 1995's The Shadow of Your Smile, Elm departed Friends of Dean Martinez, and Burns and Convertino then collaborated with an impressive number of well-respected musicians, including Richard Buckner, Neko Case, Bill Janovitz, Lisa Germano, Victoria Williams, and Barbara Manning. Also in 1995, Burns and Convertino started recording as Spoke and issued a self-titled album for the German label Hausmusik; by the time Spoke was released by Touch & Go imprint Quarterstick in 1997, the project's name was Calexico. That year, Convertino and Burns teamed up with Gelb and Germano as OP8 for the album Slush. To make the next Calexico album, the duo recorded at Tucson's Wavelab Studios as well as their homes with musicians including Gelb. A concept album about the desert of Arizona and northern Mexico, May 1998's The Black Light expanded on the cinematic feel and dry, evocative sound of the debut. The album earned critical acclaim, while the band's reputation as a live act grew after opening for Lambchop, Pavement, and the Dirty Three. During their 1999 tour, the band sold the limited-edition release The Road Map, the first in what would become a long series of albums they made available to fans through their website or at the merchandise table at their shows. Calexico continued to build on their style, adding horns and violins to May 2000's The Hot Rail. Once again recorded at Wavelab, the album was another critical success and marked their chart debut when it reached number 57 on the U.K. Albums chart. That year also saw the release of the tour-only album Travelfall as well as a deluxe edition of The Hot Rail. In addition, Convertino and Burns appeared on Giant Sand's album Chore of Enchantment and collaborated with the group Mariachi Luz de Luna. The latter outfit appeared on Calexico's 2001 EP Even My Sure Things Fall Through, a collection of new tracks and alternate versions of previously released tunes. During their tour that year, the band made the album Aerocalexico available. Following a 2002 collaboration with Nancy Sinatra on her self-titled comeback album, Calexico released Feast of Wire in February 2003. Co-produced by frequent collaborator Craig Schumacher and featuring several other players who would become regulars on their recordings, the album presented one of the group's most adventurous fusions of rock, electronic, and Latin sounds. Like its predecessor, Feast of Wire charted in the U.K. and became their first to do so in the U.S., appearing on the Billboard Heatseekers and Independent Albums charts. In 2005, Calexico teamed up with Iron and Wine's Sam Beam on the collaborative EP In the Reins and embarked on a joint tour to support the release. Calexico's fifth album, April 2006's Garden Ruin, emphasized the indie rock roots of the band's sound and was their first full-length without instrumental tracks. It was also their first album to crack the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, peaking at number 156. Garden Ruin fared well in the U.K. and Europe, and Calexico continued to tour those regions frequently. For September 2008's Carried to Dust, Calexico invited several special guests to join the recording sessions, including Pieta Brown, Iron and Wine, Jairo Zavala, and Doug McCombs of Tortoise alongside members including trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Jacob Valenzuela. The band's final album for Quarterstick (which ceased releasing new material in 2009), Carried to Dust reached number 98 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in the U.S. and number 55 on the U.K. Albums chart; in 2012, it was certified gold in Europe. After spending 2010 touring with Arcade Fire and scoring the documentary Circo, Calexico returned in September 2012 with Algiers, a celebration of New Orleans' Latin and jazz musical roots. The group's first album for Anti-, it hit number 72 in the U.S., number 60 in the U.K., and was certified double silver in Europe. Some editions of Algiers included the bonus disc Spiritoso, which featured the Radio Symphonie Orchester Wien and Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg performing alongside the band. For April 2015's ambitious Edge of the Sun, Burns, Convertino, and company traveled to Mexico City and collaborated with Neko Case, Gaby Moreno, Sam Beam, Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell, DeVotchKa's Nick Urata, members of the Greek ensemble Takim, and keyboardist Sergio Mendoza. The album peaked at number 37 in the U.K. and reached number six on the Americana/Folk Albums chart in the U.S. Calexico also sought a change of scenery for January 2018's The Thread That Keeps Us, venturing to Northern California to craft songs about finding joy during hard times. Another charting hit in Europe, the album reached number five on the U.S. Americana/Folk Albums chart. Burns and Convertino then rekindled their collaboration with Beam for June 2019's Years to Burn. Recorded in five days at Nashville's Sound Emporium studios, the album's collaborative songwriting seamlessly blended the dusty, widescreen desert sounds of Calexico with the intimacy of Iron & Wine. The following December, the band released their first holiday album, Seasonal Shift. In April 2022, Calexico issued El Mirador, a warm and lighthearted love letter to family, friends, and the American Southwest that the group recorded at Mendoza's home studio.
© Heather Phares & Mark Deming /TiVo
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