Chore Of Enchantment
Out west in Tucson, Arizona in an area of town known as the Barrio Viejo, three men named Joey Burns, John Convertino, and Howe Gelb have made some of the most perfect and timeless music of recent memory. Burns and Convertino make up Calexico, when Howe Gelb enters the picture they become Giant Sand.
Hot Rail is the third album from Calexico, while Giant Sand recently released its 15th album, Chore Of Enchantment. Both bands fit closely into the so-called alt-country sound (which means they’ve appeared in No Depression magazine) yet these two albums are miles apart stylistically.
On Hot Rail, Calexico displays a fascination with traditional Mariachi music, as well as the ’60s duets of artists such as Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg. Half of the band’s songs are sprawling, cinematic instrumentals that recall Ennio Morricone’s best work, with a slightly more experimental tinge. When there are vocals, they are handled by Burns, whose voice is not the southern drawl you might expect, but a subtle whisper that conveys a sense of longing and danger.
With Chore Of Enchantment, Gelb proves he is well-connected in the music industry by enlisting the help of a laundry list of musicians, including Juliana Hatfield, Rob Arthur, Lydia Kavanaugh, and Kevin Salem. Gelb pays tribute to his bandmates’ other project on songs like “(well) Dusted (for the millennium),” one of the few Calexico sound-alike tracks on the album.
The rest of the album is sometimes stark and naked sounding, such as on “Punishing Sun,” or “Raw,” and at other times fleshed out and almost even danceable, such as the album’s bona fide hit, “Temptation Of Egg.” There’s even a song with a hip hop beat (the insanely catchy “Wolfy”).
Gelb’s lyrical imagery is depressing, funny and self-effacing all at once. He sings about such topics as the end of the world, as well as more mundane subjects like the weather. However, nary a note or word seems wasted or out of place, which reveals one of the true strengths of the music Gelb, as well as Burns and Convertino, create.
Quarterstick Records, PO Box 25342, Chicago, IL 60625