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Calexico on the Banks of the Mississippi (MSM)

25 Jan 2013

written by My Spilt Milk

Calexico on the Banks of the Mississippi (MSM)

Photo of Calexico

Originally posted on My Spilt Milk



By Alex Rawls

“When we went down there, it wasn’t so much about trying to make a New Orleans record as it was about getting away from our own backyard and out of our comfort zone,” producer Craig Schumacher says.

Schumacher has long been a fan of New Orleans having come here many times for Jazz Fest. He brought the TapeOp Conference to New Orleans twice and its follow-up, PotLuck, once. He has produced and engineered the Tucson-based Calexico‘s recordings from the start, and for years he has encouraged them to visit New Orleans to recharge their musical batteries. It took until late 2011 to make that happen. That December, Joey Burns and John Convertino moved into The Living Room, a studio on the West Bank, to lay down the basic tracks and brainstorm on the album that would become Algiers, which they released last fall.

For Calexico, recording in New Orleans was a precarious step. To date, they had recorded primarily at Schumacher’s WaveLab Studios in Tucson, and many of the sounds that are associated with the band were created in that studio. That sound is their calling card more than any song. Their use of nylon-stringed acoustic guitars and mariachi horns, coupled with a spacious mix, creates a music that could be the soundtrack for a Wim Wenders film set along the US/Mexico border. Would their musical signature hold up in a state defined by mud and water instead of sand and stone?

By 2011, Calexico had moved into musical middle age. They’re no longer the rhythm section from Giant Sand, and the recordings that defined their sound were largely cut in the early 2000s. While they’ve never become mainstream, they’re not an insurgent or underground band anymore. For the soundtrack to the Dylan film I’m Not There, they backed Willie Nelson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Iron & Wine and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (and they appeared as the Confederate band backing James in Todd Haynes’ movie). By the time they got to 2006’s Garden Ruin and 2008’s Carried to Dust, their musical ambition seemed to have narrowed, perhaps befitting a band that changed its place in the world in terms of respect if not sales. When it came time to start work on a new album in 2011, Burns and Convertino were finally ready for a road trip.

They had already cut a bunch of demos, but according to Convertino, “I think we only got so far with that in Tucson because we don’t have that freedom there, like we did 10 years ago. It’s gotten more complicated. There’s families there. We know it so well that we know so many people now. It’s more complicated. Getting to New Orleans, we were able to work off of a great vibe that you have down there and have that kind of seclusion, a comfortable feeling.”

For the rest of the story see My Spilt Milk.

Tonight Calexico plays the Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta with Yo La Tengo, and they’ll be at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville on Wednesday. 

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