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"Sinner in the Sea" is a dreamscape battle epic that plays out under the sea. "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," sings Burns.
Album opener "Epic" is a prayer sent back home from somewhere, the distance never spelled out but present in every line. "Bring my words to all of you and if they ever hear my voice / Hold me in your thoughts laid out twisted in defense / Hoping for the chance to start." It's bleakness and hope, balanced here for a moment.
That same type of imagery seeps its way into the album's lyrics, from the long, dark road of "Fortune Teller" to the "Take it all the way down to the waterline" line that closes "Para." Title track "Algiers" is a jazzy instrumental, and trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela and frequent collaborator Jairo Zavala sing the Spanish "No Te Vayas," a song of love and deception.
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Though not always noticeable, New Orleans unspools itself across Algiers — neither skeleton nor breath, but something always present. Some other songs might eventually appear, another installment of Calexico's tour-only releases, fan favorites that reveal an alternate path.
"There's always material that's about getting certain demons out, or getting the corny ideas out. It takes a while, especially if you haven't been doing it for a while, to hone in a certain sound and find some melodies and ideas that are fresh and new," Burns says. "The tour-only albums are really fun because you just never know what you're going to get, and that's one of the great things we can do for ourselves and the audience that are interested in find out what's going into the musical background of the band."
Already having toured Europe since Algiers' September 11 release, Calexico is working its way from East to West, finishing this leg of the tour with two shows at the fittingly named Crescent Ballroom.
"A lot of times we play these shows in Arizona that are benefit shows, and we love that," Burns says, "but I'm also equally exciting to bring the touring ensemble as part of the package to Tucson and Phoenix."