Our Staff Pick of the Week comes from Dan Krejci, who has some words to share on Calexico‘s Ancienne Belgique: Live in Brussels 2008.
The major disappointing aspect of live albums is that they tend to always be incredibly awful or incredibly awesome, so it is always a crap shoot when it comes to investing in a band’s live recording. Calexico’s latest release (available exclusively through their website casadecalexico.com) falls into the latter.
Ancienne Belqique takes chances with phenomenal successes and cuts no corners to provide the listener with reconstructed live versions of songs one would believe could only be created in a studio setting.
Centered around the duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino, who met and got their start during that “flash in the pan” renaissance of neo-lounge cocktail music in the mid-’90s with Bill Elm’s Friends Of Dean Martinez, Burns and Convertino quickly saw the writing on the wall and took their talents to greener pastures.
Teaming up with various alternative country artists’ projects as guest musicians — Neko Case, Howe Gelb, Victoria Williams, Richard Buckner and Lisa Germano, to mention a few — Burns and Convertino cut their teeth with some of the best in the biz while honing their own unique interpretation of alternative country that would become know as their signature style, a hybrid of Ennio Morricone spaghetti western, Gram Parsons country rock, Portuguese Fado and Afro-Peruvian music with sprinkles of ’50s and ’60s Blue Note jazz — an unprecedented and untouchable subgenre that will only being known as Calexico.
Hardcore fans of Calexico, like myself, will be very pleased by the set list chosen for this live recording, while newborn fans will find the song selections a fine introduction to the Calexico sound. Opening their set with a more iridescent version of Garden Ruin’s ode to the infamous turquoise gems found in southeast Arizona mines, this live rendition of “Bisbee Blue” shines better than any turquoise jewelry I have seen at any roadside stand and sets the pace to what will be a live recording that just gets exponentially better with each passing song.
“Bisbee Blue” segues into one of Calexico’s finest Spaghetti Western montage songs “Roka,” featuring Barcelona’s own Amparo Sanchez, who gives this version even more credence to their Ennio Morricone influence. The version of “Inspiracion” from 2008’s Carried To Dust gives one the leery feeling that you may have accidentally chosen too spicy of a hot sauce, only to find out that after your first bite you have discovered the most flavorful condiment in your palate’s life.
Cover songs can be like live albums, hit or miss, but Calexico’s version of Love’s “Alone Again Or” puts to shame earlier covers of this song. I would bet that both Bryan MacLean’s buried soul has been grinning like a butcher’s dog since it heard the studio version of this song from the Convict Pool EP and has turned into a permanent grin with this live version. Arthur Lee’s apparition is thoroughly enjoying Calexico’s true Mariachi touches they applied to the song that Lee tried to envision with the faux-Tijuana Brass touch found on the original version.
Whether you listen to the studio version or this live version of Victor Jara’s “Hands.” Jara was the Chilean political activist and playwright whose messages of love, peace and social justice evidentially led to his torture and murder by the American and Republican president Richard Nixon and his CIA goons in a clandestine coup of a democratically elected Salvador Allende’s government financed by American multinational corporations’ greed for Chilean copper mines. “Hands” is the quintessential Calexico song in that it not only sums up all the musical genres that create their signature style, but it also touches on what motivates their lyrical content — revolutionary love — a love for your comrades fighting for the people and love for people, not an abstract people but a people that one works with daily.
Closing out this fabulous live disc is the bonus track of their song that wraps up the entire history of the cool jazz movement of the ’50s and ’60s in less than seven minutes, “Crumble.” “Crumble” rounds up the lyrical instrumentation of Miles Davis, the introspective indulgences of John Coltrane and the melodic styles of Thelonious Monk without abandoning their signature style of alternative country in what could be the most perfect ode to jazz history.
The disc is limited edition, so jump on the computer and go to their website and order your copy today before it’s too late.