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Calexico is its usually enjoyably diverse self

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., May 1, 2018

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Don't expect to easily pigeonhole Calexico as a country-flavored band. Or a Tex-Mex band with an emphasis on the Mex. Or a rock band. In reality, Calexico is a genre-bending musical stalwart that is all of those and a bit more as it has aged exceedingly well.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based band started off its sold-out gig with country-/Americana-flavored sounds on "Town & Miss Lorraine" and "Across the Wire." Quickly, though, of course, the Mexican and Tex-Mex sounds came to the fore.

And then they would change gears and do it all over again with a variety of other sonics.

While the band is ostensibly lead singer Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino, this is a band with a lot of legs and a band in the true sense of the word. Guitarist Jairo Zavala, who's from Madrid, Spain, took care of lead vocals on several songs including the cumbia "Flores y Tamales." That was not the only cumbia they would play as "Cumbia de Donde" appeared near the end of the regular set. About half a dozen songs were sung in Spanish, further expanding the flavors of Calexico. It should be pointed out that Zavala was far more than a good singer. He was a superb axe man as well, fluid and with bite.

The two-piece horn section of Jacob Valenzuela and Martin Wenk punctuated song after song with their bright sounds.

Calexico is more of an album cuts kind of band, except perhaps for their smart cover of Love's "Alone Again Or," which sounds as fresh as ever more than 50 years after its original recording.

Just when maybe, just maybe, you thought you had Calexico figured out came the encore. "Fortune Teller" featured Burns on acoustic along with upright bassist Scott Colberg and Lauren Jacobsen, who's typically found during Calexico shows selling merch, on fiddle and vocals. Nice sounds all around on the soft, gentle song.

As if to underscore the group dynamic of Calexico, the band closed with "Guero Canelo," giving everybody a chance to shine on the Spanish-flavored instrumental. Perhaps no one more so than Zavala, who ripped off a bunch of more sturdy licks with the crowd vocally responding in kind to his sounds.

Two decades plus along, Calexico served up its typically diverse group of sounds. They are no dilettantes.

Guitarist Ryely Walker opened with a dense, musically challenging set. If Calexico was not built on hits, Walker absolutely wasn't. A trio with another guitarist and Colberg helping out on upright bass, it was mainly Walker and the guitarist playing off each other. Some of the songs meandered awhile, but eventually they would find riffs that percolated and drew the listener in.

Despite an offbeat demeanor, Walker demanded intense listening from the audience. That wasn't always easy, but ultimately he deserved it.