“I went there looking for the darker sides of the street,” Calexico’s Joey Burns recently told KUTX’s Jay Trachtenberg. He was referring to his trip to New Orleans, an experience that resulted in Algiers, the band’s 2012 album and seventh record to date. Calexico certainly thrive in the shadows; over the course of a decade-and-a-half, the Tucson, Arizona outfit has perfected a sound that’s been called “desert-noir.” Though the mariachi horns and harmonies are bright, Calexico’s songs are filled with a sense of life and death. It’s this kind of darkness that makes the band so compelling, even if the formula largely stays the same.
For Algiers, though, Burns and longtime collaborator/drummer John Convertino decided to flip the script. They left the comfortable confines of their Tucson studio behind and headed for New Orleans. The Big Easy’s melange of sounds is a natural fit for Calexico, who incorporate elements of rock, jazz, folk, country, and various Latin styles. Yet Algiers does not feature second liners or Cajun fiddles. The New Orleans influence is more subtle: there’s the album’s title (a Crescent City neighborhood), and the way the songs creep up on you, like shadowy figures coming out of the humid mist.
Calexico has long been an adaptable band, able to get in touch with their surroundings or handle myriad lineup changes. A stripped-down version of the group–featuring Burns, bassist Ryan Alfred, and pianist Sergio Mendoza–stopped by KUTX’s Studio 1A recently and played a few selections from Algiers. “Maybe On Monday,” with its pair of star-crossed lovers at its center, was a highlight, showing off the band’s prodigious gift for storytelling, be it in Tucson, New Orleans, or Austin.
You can also watch a bonus performance of “Fortune Teller,” live in Studio 1A: