Originally published in Punk Planet May/June 2007
Knowing that this Tucson ensemble’s loyal following tend to break into fits of breathless poetry about desert horizons or sand-choked nights could lead the uninitiated to believe Joey Burns and John Convertino stepped fully formed out of some Arizona mirage one summer afternoon.
Spoke, released before the incredible The Black Light, proves that assumption incorrect, offering a richer, more nuanced storyline. Recorded when Burns and Convertino’s collaboration was a Giant Sand side project in the truest sense of the word, this 19-song disc finds the group’s core members offering raw, understated songs as they work to find a sound distinct from Howe Gelb. They do not wander long.
All the later templates are here: the acoustic border ballad (“Point Vicente,” “Sanchez”), the open-road driving song (“Glimpse”), the European polka-hall exercise (“Mazurra”).
We also get some of the group’s most heart-wrenching work (the spare “Stinging Nettle,” the cello-assisted “Removed”), as well as odd outtakes like the Friends of Dean Martinez-tinged surf romp “Scout.”
The record can feel casual and slightly off-hand (only four songs break three minutes; three don’t reach 60 seconds) but it’s also amazingly complete. At roughly 44 minutes, Spoke doesn’t waste a moment and few tracks – even interludes – could have been cut from the mix.
It’s a record that demonstrates why Calexico deserves the audience it amassed through later successes, and one that still resonates, even as Burns and Convertino continue to evolve.
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be:: Music from the Motion Picture The Map of Sex and Love; Richard Buckner, Since; Seam, The Pace Is Glacial; June of 44, Engine Takes to the Water; Low, Things We Lost In The Fire