REVIEW: Calexico “El Mirador”


Calexico — El Mirador

Arizona-born band Calexico has always practiced a borderless shade of Americana. Founders Joey Burns and John Convertino have yet to find a sun-baked subgenre they can’t make work for them – cumbia, Cuban son and Southwestern desert music all find their way into the band’s work. Their 10th studio album, El Mirador, bounces nimbly around all of that and more, backing up songs that are both celebratory and thought provoking, with music that ranges from dark and eerie to hot, sweaty fun.

El Mirador starts on the more mysterious end of that spectrum with the title cut which, after kicking off with a flourish of horns, dissolves to man searching – in Spanish and English – for “That buzzing in your corazon.” Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno joins Burns on vocals, while Italy’s Alessandro “Asso” Stefana chips in with a stabbing guitar solo. “Harness The Wind,” a tune that rides on Burns’ excellent electric guitar work along with Mendoza’s atmospheric synth line, asks if all we think we know is really up to fate – “If our worlds don’t collide/Is there a chance for you and I?”

Along with all of the worldly influences present on El Mirador, a couple of the most interesting songs on the record are penned by Pieta Brown, a singer-songwriter from the exoctic land of…Iowa. Her concise lyrics – “Lava flow/Of memory/Making daydreams/Out of history” – perfectly complement Burns’ driving rhythm guitar and Convertino’s propulsive drumming on “Then You MIght See.” And “El Paso” crosses Burns’ breathy vocals with a wealth of Latin trumpets and percussion in a tale of disparate lives on either side of an imaginary line – “Fighting for a border/That’s hard to understand/And harder to find/Than the truth in this land.”

More than anything, though, Calexico looks to emphasize a sense of togetherness in their music, their guests and their choice of influences. Sometimes, that community is a cafe that never seems to shut down. “The El Burro Song ” features that place – fights and nasty hangovers being the cost of the party that never ends, but memories of Sandra and her “Horchata kiss” are reason enough to come back. That, and the sway of the music, the trumpets and gritos, and the violin-led coda that gives the listener the sense of the never-ending fiesta, messy as it might be. And “Liberada” realizes the necessity of togetherness, whether in celebration or mourning – “The night is heavy with rain, sorrow and song/You were the spark that lit the flame and carried us on and on.” We’ve missed too many of those gatherings over the past two years, and Calexico reminds us that togetherness, and the music that goes with it, are part of what we’ll look back on long after the other stuff fades.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “The El Burro Song” – loud, sweaty fun, just in time for summer.

El Mirador was produced by Sergio Mendoza, Joey Burns and John Convertino, engineered by Chris Schultz, mixed by Tucker Martine and Camilo Lara and mastered by JJ Golden. Additional musicians on the album include Gaby Moreno (vocals), Sergio Mendoza (piano, keys, synth, percussion, acoustic guitar, bass, backing vocals), Jacob Valenzuela (trumpet, backing vocals), Rick Peron (trumpet), Martin Wenk (trumpet), Tom Hagerman (strings, accordion), Allesandro “Asso” Stefana (electric guitar, banjo, lap steel), Sam Beam (backing vocals), Beth Goodfellow (backing vocals), Camilo Lara (drum programming, synth, vocals), Connor Gallaher (electric guitar, pedal steel), David Gill (violin), Alex Leyva-Toledo (violin), Giselle Paris Aubrey (violin), Leah Lopez (violin), Johnny Contreras (acoustic guitar, vihuela, vocals), Antonio Pro (guitarron, vocals), Scott Colberg (upright bass) and Chris Schultz (tambourine),

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