To refer to John Convertino and Joey Burns as a rhythm section is tantamount to calling John Lennon and Paul McCartney a couple of songwriters. It's an accurate depiction but only in the most rudimentary Etch-a-Sketch-y fashion. Of course drummer Convertino and bassist Burns have been the living pulse of every musical entity that they have inhabited, from their long-standing gig behind Howe Gelb in Giant Sand, to résumé-building exercises with Victoria Williams, Richard Buckner, and Barbara Manning. Through all of the duo's amazing style shifts and brave new session assignments, they have consistently held back some of their most engaging and fascinating material for their side project, Calexico. .
Calexico is the musical equivalent of a trash-can party, where everybody brings a different liquor and pours it in the mix, resulting in a strange but potent brew. Throughout the band's four albums (the DIY debut, Superstition Highway, the limited release Spoke, the brilliant The Black Light, and their latest and best, Hot Rail), Convertino and Burns have supplied a studio closet's array of instrumentation (cello, vibes, guitar, violin, marimba, organ) and their attendant expertise, while surrounding themselves with the most passionate and talented players to help them bring their ideas to life. For the most part, Convertino and Burns are interested in creating a cinematic atmosphere without the fuss of an actual movie, and on all four albums, they've done just that.
Hot Rail continues in the tradition of 1998's stunning The Black Light, with Convertino and Burns once again mashing together several disparate styles to come up with their own unique blend of Arizona noir. Utilizing fluid elements of country, mariachi, rock, and jazz, Convertino and Burns transform those individual pieces into a single synergistic continuum that refers to all of its components even as it defies the traditions behind them. Hot Rail is quietly evocative and subversively authentic -- a Ry Cooder/Miles Davis halftime-at-a-bullfight battle of the bands.
After three dazzling soundtrack albums without films, Calexico has finally been tapped for a real movie score (Lisa Krueger's Committed). While we wait to see what Convertino and Burns will do to support real flickering images, Hot Rail's sinuous and stylish sonics will accompany the images on the inside of our eyelids.
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