Calexico - Algiers

Calexico - Algiers

Calexico (Joey Burns and John Convertino) are a band inextricably connected with the American landscape and specifically the South-West. Calexico is actually a small town on the California-Mexico border. Their indie-rock traverses the borders of different styles from this region, most evidently, Tex Mex, Mariachi and Western. It is interesting then that they left Tucson, Arizona to record this album, instead heading east to New Orleans. They chose a converted Baptist Church in the suburb of Algiers on the banks of the Mississippi river.

Despite the location, it is very hard to hear any overt New Orleans influences. From the first track, 'Epic', with its steady acoustic strumming, sparse vocals and cleverly placed piano and electric guitar parts, the album is unmistakably Calexico. You are instantly transported to a land of canyons and coyotes.

The arrangements and instrumentation sound very familiar, but there are aspects to Algiers that set it apart from other Calexico albums. You will have to look for them though. One point of difference is 'Sinner in the Sea'; while starting off with a latin feel, the song almost makes it into gospel territory with the interjection of an organ and lyrics about the divide between Cuba and New Orleans. Burns sings:

"There’s a piano playing on the ocean floor between Havana and New Orleans,
Drummin’ a requiem for the dead and the souls hanging on every poet’s prayer.
Running to the rock, running to the sea,
Prayin’ to the Lord, please shelter me."

And later:

"Sinner in the rock, sinner in the sea,
There’s a sunken bridge ‘tween you and me."

Another new development is that percussionist and piano player, John Convertino, took on a more prominent role writing the lyrics on Algiers, and many of the songs have more of a direct, confessional feel, differing from Burns’ more character-based style. For example, on 'Para' co-written by Burns and Convertino, Burns sings:

"I hold your wrist,
You bite your lip,
The push becomes an embrace.

I touch your face,
You close your eyes,
The embrace becomes a shove."

There are moments on Algiers, such as the instrumental title track and 'Maybe On Monday', that capture some of the urgency and rawness of 2003's Feast of Wire, easily Calexico's strongest album to date. The space on these tracks creates a sadness and intensity that is lacking on other songs that have more instrumentation and polished arrangements.

Algiers is a strong album that has all the trademark Calexico sounds, but it’s a little disappointing that a few New Orleans influences didn’t creep into the recording.
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