‘It’s not what some people have called a return to form, because there are new elements on the record,’ says Joey Burns, singer, songwriter and co-founding member (with percussionist John Convertino) of the idiosyncratic alt.country outfit Calexico. ‘Rather, it’s refining what we do.’
Burns is talking down the phone line from Tucson about the new album, Carried to Dust. Featuring his trademark whispered vocals and Convertino’s hushed brushwork on the skins, familiar twangy surf guitar and mariachi horn arrangements, the new record is certainly in keeping with the sound Calexico made its name with. It’s a return to form in the sense that the previous album, 2006’s Garden Ruin, didn’t sound like the Calexico we know, sounding more folk-rock than Arizona-Mex. Burns and Convertino have fixed that by returning to a more hands-on and at the same time relaxed way of recording.
‘To begin with,’ says Burns, ‘John and I went into the studio and messed around with some rhythm tracks. The technicians asked if we were recording the album yet and we said, “We’re just sort of writing it.” Later, we brought in our regular band and some guests [Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam, Tortoise’s Doug McCombs, Willie Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael, Canadian chanteuse Pieta Brown among them] and let them have fun playing over the top of those tracks. It was a return to a far more informal arrangement, and I think the result is a record people will recognise but also find something new in.’
Carried to Dust is built around the story of a writer lighting out from LA and travelling around, with tracks such as ‘House of Valparaiso’ inspired by Burns’ trips to Chile. ‘We met some memorable people when we toured in Latin America,’ he says. ‘So when we came to make the record I imagined our hopper heading east on a whim,’ says Burns, ‘and being inspired by what he found on his way. The record is like a traveller’s journal, somewhat introverted, fractured and abstract.’
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 11 Sep