Album Review: Years to Burn by Calexico and Iron & Wine

Posted by Bianca on Monday Jun 17, 2019 Under Album Review

Review by John Bentley

Singer song-writer Sam Beam has released several albums under the moniker of Iron & Wine, but in 2005 he teamed up with Calexico to record a collaborative EP, ‘In the Reins’. Calexico main-men Joey Burns and John Convertino have carved a lengthy and successful career with their unique Tex-Mex / Americana style, combining Latin sounds (particularly Mariachi) with country indie-rock. ‘In the Reins’ was made up of Beam compositions, with Calexico providing the musical backing. The two bands clearly get on well together and have toured and collaborated over a long period, but have only just got around to recording a follow-up album together.

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The new album, ‘Years to Burn’, is a far more collaborative and experimental affair than ‘In the Reins’. While most of the compositions are still Beam’s, the honours are shared-out pretty evenly between the bands. Calexico’s arrangements and instrumental skills are clearly imprinted on the album. The resulting album is a highly crafted piece of work with excellent songs, although not entirely cohesive. Some tracks, like opener ‘What Heaven’s Left’, are essentially Beam backed by Calexico, Beam singing the song, with a brass-dominated Calexico instrumental finale. Meanwhile ‘Outside El Paso’ is a curious brief mood-setting Calexico instrumental interlude, which feels like it ought to lead into something, but doesn’t.

The most interesting and experimental offering is ‘The Bitter Suite’, a more complicated three-part piece, starting with Calexico trumpeter Jacob Venenzuela singing gently in Spanish to an acoustic guitar backing, before the track transforms into a jazzy instrumental groove, bringing Calexico’s considerable multi-instrumental skills into play. The song finally morphs into a gentle melody sung by Beam.

Beam undoubtedly has a gift for catchy melodies and the often understated instrumentation from Calexico works very well, even if the collaborative aims do not always seem particularly ambitious. The album rounds-off nicely with some pleasing vocal harmonies on concluding song ‘In Your Own Time’.

‘Years to Burn’ released June 14th on City Slang

Track List:
What Heaven’s Left
Midnight Sun
Father Mountain
Follow The Water
Outside El Paso
The Bitter Suite
Years To Burn
In Your Own Time

Live dates:
Monday 18th November – EDINBURGH – Usher Hall
Tuesday 19th November – LIVERPOOL – Philharmonic Hall
Wednesday 20th November – MANCHESTER – Bridgewater Hall
Thursday 21st November – COVENTRY – Warwick Arts Centre
Saturday 23rd November – LONDON – Royal Festival Hall
Sunday 24th November – BEXHILL-ON-SEA – De La Warr Pavillion

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