One of those bands that, along with Rainer, Giant Sand, the Sand Rubies and the Luminarios, has helped supply the indigenous sounds to accompany my decadelong Old Pueblo odyssey, Calexico commenced operations inauspiciously enough with the '96 home recording Spoke. I was smitten by the lo-fi folk twang, of course, then utterly seduced by its ambientadelicized, mariachi-and-spaghetti-Western-fried successors, 1998's The Black Light and last year's Hot Rail. Something about the Joey Burns/John Convertino mutant/hybrid take on regional music just seemed right where other locals' efforts at music-making seemed far too rigid and blueprinted.
With the recent Even My Sure Things Fall Through EP, Calexico ties together a number of loose ends -- it's an eight-song odds-and-sods collection of B-sides and remixes that mostly appeared on overseas singles -- while demonstrating that even the band's castoffs smoke the rest of its Arizona "competition." From a brilliant Hot Rail outtake called "Banderilla" (front-loaded with violin and trumpet) and two versions of new composition "Crystal Frontier" (a stark acoustic take plus a full-on mariachi reading) to "Untitled III," a pongy/scratchy electronica remix courtesy of Britain's Two Lone Swordsman, and "Hard Hat," a lengthy excursion into the ambient ether that suggests heat lines snaking over the broiling asphalt, the EP is a testament to Calexico's diversity as songwriters, collectors/lovers of music, and sonic sculptors constantly in transition.
Worth noting, too, is Calexico's cover of the American Music Club's "Chanel No. 5" (originally on an AMC tribute album). It offers a tender, pedal-steel respite -- soft and traditional at that -- from heartache, drudgery or the daily blaze of the summer Sonoran sun, take your pick. And while you're ducking indoors to escape that sun, cue up the trio of videos included in the enhanced section of the CD: Directed by filmmaker John Pirozzi, they include two evocative travelogues ("The Black Light," "Crystal Frontier"), as well as one bona fide visual novelette ("The Ballad of Cable Hogue"). Coming soon: the "Shootout at the Old Calexico Corral" movie? Just maybe. . . .
Actually, Aerocalexico is the next best thing to a Calexico film soundtrack, a 23-track collection of disparate, quirky scenes. The disc is the third in the group's so-called tour-only CDs, issued on the duo's own label and available only at gigs or over its Web site (www.casadecalexico.com).
Highlights abound. The lovely traditional Western tune "All the Pretty Horses" is rendered acoustic and passionately, with some ethereal pedal steel swirling in the background. (Joey and John previously tackled the tune in full-band mode during their stint in Friends of Dean Martinez.) The impressionistic space-guitar number "Blacktop" hails from an aborted project a few years ago that had Calexico putting music to author Lawrence Clark Powell's books-on-tape, and yes, that is Powell's voice heard on the track. Convertino checks in with -- gasp! -- a drum solo, acquitting himself quite nicely at that, on "'64 Ford Fairlane," while Burns pulls a Howe Gelb on a couple of alone-with-a-tape-deck-and-effects numbers, "Reverse Ranch" and "AZ Room." Speaking of Giant Sand's Gelb, there's a snippet of him playing the piano that comprises "Train of Thought." And on another tune that also has neither Burns nor Convertino present, Lambchop's pedal-steel maestro, Paul Niehaus, serves up some cosmic twang and calls it "Redwood."
Also don't miss: the depth-defying loveliness that is Calexico's cover of Nick Drake's "Clothes of Sand"; a jagged number, "Crooked Road and the Briar," which is different from a version that appears on the EP mentioned above; and a jazz/neoclassical piece (cello, standup bass and nylon guitar -- the latter courtesy Tortoise/Brokeback's Doug McCombs) called "Sequoia" that always conjures a wide-screen wealth of emotions each time I hear it. Which, no doubt, is key to "getting" Calexico. No one-trick pony recycling the same formats each time it records an album, Calexico is more like a full-breed stallion, restless and impossible to fence in. Long may it run free.