Review: Calexico Managing a Cultural Crossover

Calexic/ The Watchtower/Anti Records
3.5 out of five stars

Calexico has built a career exploring uncharted waters. Inspired by their high desert southwest origins, their music shares a mystique that offers possibilities for rock, jazz, psychedelia and other forms of atmospheric ambience. Over their ten album/30 year career, the band’s two co-founders, Joey Burns and John Convertino, have never failed to find inspiration in their specific environment, while remaining true to the progressive stance that fascinates their followers from the beginning on.

The band’s new album, El Mirador, finds them delving even deeper into these designs, sharing the sounds of cumbia, mariachi and other signature styles from south of the border. It’s a festive affair, of course, with songs such as “Harness The Wind”, “Liberada”, “El Burro Song”, “Cumbia del Polvo”, “El Paso” and “The You Might Even See” seeing keyboardist, accordionist and percussionist Sergio Mendoza takes the lead in lending the Latin influence. The result is resolutely vibrant in its very nature, with a most festive sensibility. It’s a sound that should have listeners leaning in, dancing, and imagining themselves in a fiesta where sights and sounds merge into a rich sensory framework.

While atmosphere and ambience usually dominate any Calexico offering, The Watchtower found Calexico pulling off a decidedly down-to-earth sound. It is a distinctive statement that reaffirms their allegiance to these Arizona environs. An intriguing offering, she also finds them expanding their appeal in a very distinctive way. More down to earth than ever, these alluring melodies should find a target audience from a number of other contemporary combos paying heed to today’s multicultural mainstream.

Still, knowing Calexico’s history of sharing plots and experimenting, it’s doubtful that there was any commercial consideration involved. Still, given that the English translation of the word “watchtower” is “window” or “balcony,” it’s also safe to say that the band is giving fans and followers a glimpse into the future.

Photo credit: Holly Andres

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