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Garden Ruin – 2006 (Quarterstick)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Calexico

John Convertino and Joey Burns, the musical braintrust behind Calexico and contributors to dozens of other artists and projects, have never been content to settle in a single style. Their Calexico output has surely been guided by their Arizona environs, a dusty blend of gypsy jazz, surf guitar and Ennio Morricone's evocative spaghetti western soundtracks, but each album has been distinct in its own strengths and individual directions.

The songs on Calexico's fifth official album exhibit that same difference, but in a dramatically new fashion as the band explores a poppier side of their persona than ever before. Their recent collaborations with Iron & Wine, Neko Case and Nancy Sinatra and opening gigs for Wilco and Lyle Lovett may have inspired them, but whatever the reason, this is Calexico's most accessibly song-based - and most lyrically contemporary and politically toned - album to date.

Convertino, Burns and their new multi-national assemblage have created a folk/pop masterwork that references The Beatles and Burt Bacharach ("Lucky Dime"), T Bone Burnett ("Cruel") and Wilco and The Wallflowers ("Letter to Bowie Knife") while remaining within spitting distance of their edgy Southwestern comfort zone. "Garden Ruin" is a fascinating blend of Calexico's border town cantina orchestra past and its ambitious pop future.