by: Calexico

Calexico had intended to record the follow-up to 2008's gorgeous Carried to Dust somewhere in Europe, but when those plans fell through, they chose America's most European city, New Orleans, as their destination. The change of scenery is definitely felt in Algiers, named for the neighborhood in which they set up shop. While Joey Burns and John Convertino haven't suddenly thrown Cajun and zydeco into their repertoire, there's still a rich stew (or should that be gumbo?) of sounds here. Calexico are never obvious, and their homage to the Big Easy is neither grandiose nor simple; instead, they incorporate subtle hints of the city's storied musical heritage into their own distinctive style. Algiers is bookended by songs that allude to "The House of the Rising Sun" in their pedal steel melodies; Convertino emphasizes the jazz side of his formidable percussion skills; and "No Te Vayas" is a fitting, and dramatic, tribute to New Orleans' Latin and jazz musical roots. This time, however, Calexico's attitude, while not exactly boisterous, is a lot less studied and restrained than it has been in years, resulting in a more down-to-earth set of songs than they've delivered in quite a while. "Splitter"'s big brass and drums make it louder than the band's past few albums combined; "Sinner in the Sea" strikes sparks with its mix of blues and Latin rhythms, marking the first time in a long time that Burns' voice has risen above a whispery croon; and while "Maybe on Monday"'s bitter but ambiguous farewell to a lover may not be a true murder ballad, it has the sharp sting of one. However, the band still deals largely in shadows and echoes, and Algiers has plenty of those. "Puerto" and the title track feel like they could be a part of Calexico's catalog from way back when, while the single "Para" shows off their eerie, hypnotic side and the lovely Americana pop of "Fortune Teller" and "Hush" recalls Garden Ruin's folky idylls. While these tales of people trying to escape their pasts aren't quite as masterful as Carried to Dust, Algiers has some great songs and a vitality that Calexico should try to hang onto in the future. ~ Heather Phares

Please enable Javascript to view this page competely.