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Calexico - Feast of Wire (City Slang)

If there were an award for the worst and most meaningless genre name, my vote would definitely go to What the hell is it supposed to mean? As far as I can tell, (which presumably implies some element of being alternative) is the truest type of country music there is. Why is the Handsome Family's dark and off-kilter sound when it echoes Johnny Cash and the traditional music of the Appalachians? If anything, the cruddy populist sounds of Nashville country should get a new name and leave country to the real stuff.

Calexico, the Giant Sand spin-off featuring Joey Burns and John Convertino that seems to have surpassed Giant Sand in recent years, are because they sound a bit like Neil Young at times. Calexico are because they mix bits of traditional music, like that of the Appalachians or of Mexico, with a modern sensibility. Calexico are because people who aren't into country like them. Calexico are because they're damn good.

From the moment the sweet sounds of 'Sunken waltz', with its waltz tempo and soft vocals, you're hooked. This music just washes over you like a cool breeze on a hot summer's evening and is utterly beguiling. Just listen to the divine strings on 'Black pepper' or the guitar plucking of 'Pepito' and try to resist the appeal. 'Not even Stevie Nicks...' is one of a few tracks you could imagine Neil Young recording for one of his quieter albums, while 'Close Behind', the first track on this album to bring in the Mexicana sound Calexico are most well known for, is an instrumental track that should be the soundtrack to a film.

'Woven birds' could be a traditional song with its roots in the Appalachians sung through the years by generations of folk singers. When Calexico get a bit modern and electronic on 'Attack el robot! Attack!', they don't lose the gentle sway of the album, the instrumental track is Tom Waits without Tom Waits. Then it goes all out mariachi on 'Across the wire (widescreen)', with a tale of violence and running away to the wonderful strains of a Mexican trumpet. 'GŁero Canelo' even throws in a bit of Mexican backing singing. 'Crumble' is another track with a Tom Waits feel about it; you could imagine this song being part of the soundtrack of Coppola's 'One from the heart'.

'Feast of wire' is purely and simply a wonderful record, just as anyone who's encountered their previous material would expect. Calexico have become one of those bands you can rely on to make quality music and to do it on their own terms. The fact that they evoke such great names as Neil Young and Tom Waits is no reflection on their own originality, they don't copy them, they make music that's equal to theirs. This is an album not just to listen to, but to absorb. It's an album that will make you feel good deep down inside.

Donnacha DeLong

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