Review by Adrian Peel with Photography by Cath Dupuy

Americana/alternative country rockers Calexico and folk singer-songwriter Iron & Wine (aka Sam Beam) released the LP ‘Years to Burn’, their first collaboration together since their 2005 EP, ‘In the Reins’, in June this year and have been touring it pretty much non-stop since then.

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Part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, well-received support came from likeable folk singer Lisa O’Neill. Getting under way at the very reasonable hour of 8.30pm, Calexico (singer/guitarist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino) and Sam Beam took to the stage backed by three other very gifted musicians – vocalist/trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela, a bass player and a keyboard player/accordionist/pedal steel guitarist.

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Before the music started, Joey announced that we could expect to hear “lots of old songs, lots of new songs and lots of sort of in-between songs.” They then kicked things off with the melodically wistful ‘Follow the Water’, which was then followed by the gorgeous ‘He Lays in the Reins’, the opening track on the ‘In the Reins’ EP.

The jaunty ‘Father Mountain’ was gloriously reminiscent of The Band, while Sam revealed that ‘Glimpse’ was the first Calexico song he ever heard right before he and the band performed it. John Convertino’s sublimely fluid drumming is one of Calexico’s greatest assets and he was given a chance to ‘let loose’ a little on the track, which first appeared on the group’s 1996 debut album, ‘Spoke’.

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Joey Burns has a lovely, warm voice – I have to say I prefer it to Sam Beam’s, however the two harmonise excellently together – and it was showcased quite magnificently on ‘Midnight Sun’, a song which also featured some delightful pedal steel guitar. The heartfelt ’16 Maybe Less’ is a wonderfully tender tune, although Sam seemed to forget the lyrics at the start, just like he did at the Cambridge Folk Festival. He was able to joke about it, though, and it didn’t detract from an otherwise solid performance.

“Alright London, are you ready to cumbia?” asked Joey ahead of the uptempo ‘Flores y Tamales’. Sung in Spanish by Jacob Valenzuela, this Mexico-inspired tune certainly got the audience moving.

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Thereafter, the pace slowed down and things seemed to get a little more pedestrian. Lisa O’Neill was brought back out to duet with Joey and Sam (the rest of the band had gone off stage) on the Everly Brothers’ classic ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’, but it wasn’t really until the outstanding ‘Years to Burn’ and the steel guitar-heavy ‘History of Lovers’ – with more welcome trumpet playing from Jacob – that I really ‘perked up’ again.

‘What Heaven’s Left’ was the ideal way to close the show, though there was time for a one-song encore – the heartwarming ‘In Your Own Time’. Even though I would like to have heard more of Calexico’s upbeat – and more Mexican-esque – stuff, this was a highly-assured showing from six superb musicians.

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See the full photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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