CALEXICO: Carried To Dust [Quarterstick]

While conventional wisdom holds that Calexico fuses mariachi and rock music, the band has always accomplished more than that. Core members Joey Burns (vocals, guitars) and John Convertino (drums) can also kick up honky-tonk sawdust, wring tears with a folk ballad or make dim lights flicker with noir-jazz ambience, and they generally sound best when they’re doing more than one thing at a time. They went wrong on 2006’s Garden Ruin by trying to boil things down to protest lyrics and big rock moves; the result was as boring as a John Mellencamp record. Carried To Dust is a return to polyglot form. Burns and Convertino have swapped sincere-yet-simplistic politics for mysterious, discursive travelogues and brought back the mariachi horns and twangy desert guitars. They also heaped on guest appearances by Sam Beam (Iron And Wine) and Doug McCombs (Tortoise) and topped it off with studio experimentation. Carried To Dust is definitely Calexico’s best-sounding record: Each voice and instrument has its place, wheeling around Convertino’s graceful drumming like dancers going around the maypole. Someone had some fun mixing Carried To Dust; on “Fractured Air,” the bass drum’s reverberations pop in and out of the song, and treated piano and steel guitars swirl vertiginously around the singing on “Red Blooms.” That fun carries over to listening; with Calexico, more is definitely more. Welcome back, guys. []

—Bill Meyer