Calexico’s “Algiers” Was Actually Last Week’s Best Album Release

Bob Dylan’s Tempest garnered all the acclaim, but the music we’ve been listening to most in Tulip Frenzy World HQ is Calexico’s Algiers.  It’s not that we don’t want to listen to 14-minute songs about the Titanic (and 40-minutes or so of the Bobster’s album is a superb return to the prior form that Together Through Life suggested had been reduced to bar-band renderings of boozy blues.)  It is that one of America’s great bands has produced a career highlight album filled with gorgeous melodies and thrilling beats we cannot for the life of us get out of our head.

The story of Bob Dylan and Calexico can maybe framed as the rivalry between America’s two great rivers.  The Mississippi is both lubricant and muse, Ole Man River.  But the Colorado — which (before Lake Powell and Lake Mead stole its bounty for thirsty Western cities and greedy farmers) at least used to empty silted runoff from the Rockies via a Mexican terminus — forms an almost entirely separate second musical delta.  Having been raised near its source, the septuagenarian Dylan might still be working the loamy riverbank of the Mississippi, but the Southwestern-based Calexico instead has worked the parched seams of the Colorado, which just happens to be America’s greatest artist. (Editor: huh?  Reply: Compare how the Grand Canyon is sculpted to anything produced by Winslow Homer or Jackson Pollack, and you’ll see why we accord it that status.)  As between Tabasco and Salsa, America is one big tasty musical treat, but it’s only when you think about the grand tradition of our nation West of the Mississippi that Calexico’s Mexicali-tinged rock’n’roll music begins to claim its place.  The Mississippi, with its blues and jazz and the gumbo and chitlin’ stewpot that cooked up rock’n’roll is where we’ve been; the Mariachi and Spaghetti Western fuzz-guitar twang that inspired Joey Burns and John Convertino may actually be where we’re going.

Yet Algiers wasn’t recorded, as you might have expected, in the roiling sandstorm of North Africa, but the Louisiana precinct of the same name.  And how does humidity leaven the Tucson-based band’s first album since the brilliant Carried To Dust from 2008?  It actually doesn’t seem to have affected it much at all.  Algiers may be the most radio friendly Calexico album to date, but it is still filled with enough slickrock mystery to animate a B. Traven novel, with all the humanity, though a lower body count, of something by Cormac McCarthy.  The latter may have migrated, like so many others, from Appalachia to the Deep South to the Southwest Desert, the reverse route of Calexico on at least this album, but he always maintains an essential American talent for mayhem, and so do Calexico, as American as pico de gallo.

Algiers is what’s been flowing through our ear buds, flowing with maybe just a bit more volume due to the heavier rainfall to be found east of the 100th Meridien.  It’s good to have Calexico back, with their rocking American folk songs that flow from an alternative American tradition.

2 Responses to “Calexico’s “Algiers” Was Actually Last Week’s Best Album Release”

  1. […] by the time Joey Burns, John Convertino, and their ensemble were two songs into showcasing their glorious new album, Algiers,  the aperture of our mind focused sharply on just what an American treasure this Arizona border […]

  2. […] Southwest musical chili con blood’n'guts, made it on our Top Ten List, and Algiers  was some kind of revelation.  As we noted, “Algiers wasn’t recorded, as you might have expected, in the roiling […]

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