Tucson folk-rock outfit Calexico has developed a longstanding reputation for organizing remarkable collaborations (recall their 2005 joint EP with Iron & Wine, In the Reins). Sonically, the duo’s music is also remarkably inclusive, running the gamut of Southwestern-influenced genres such as traditional Latin mariachi, conjunto, and cumbia, and whiffs of mid-century jazz and contemporary post-rock.
Now, on the band’s ninth studio album, Edge of the Sun (out on April 14 via ANTI-), singer and multi-instrumentalist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino once again team up with Iron & Wine Renaissance man Sam Beam, plus a mess of other friends: rock-reggae-Latin chameleonic singer Amparo Sánchez, Neko Case, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, and more. With the help of regular touring member Sergio Mendoza, Burns has compiled a mix tape of songs for SPIN by special guests on Calexico’s latest effort, delving into what each artist contributed to Edge of the Sun.
Iron & Wine, ‘Boy With A Coin’
I love Sam’s music. He is an incredible percussionist and arranger. He doesn’t play percussion per se, but he’s really ensconced with rhythm. He’s one of those guys who is supremely talented on many levels. Like how Elliot Smith kind of took the ball from late-‘60s, early ‘70s British pop and made it his own, Sam has pulled from all the right sources to take the ball from the same era. I love the video, too. Here, I decided to choose a song that feels connected to Calexico’s vibe and feel.
On Edge of the Sun, Sam is on the song “Bullets and Rocks.” The way that I was approaching the vocals, it kind of reminded me of Sam and some of the work we’ve done together. So I thought I’ll just text him and see. You’d think it would be easy enough to do, but there’s a lot of contemplating that goes by where you go, “I don’t want to bother those people. They’re super-busy. He has more kids than I do.” Sergio [Mendoza] was really encouraging in that way. He said, “Yeah you should pick up the phone. Call Neko [Case]. Call Sam.” And then one of his friends had suggested getting in touch with Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses, whom I’ve never met. Sergio was responsible for encouraging me to make these calls, which I really appreciate.
Amparo Sánchez, “Alma de Cantaora”
When I first heard Amparo’s music in 2003, she had released one of my favorite albums with her band called Amparanoia. The record is called Enchilao. I just like how minimal this song is. It’s got a nice rhythm and flow to it. I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I like the fact that it’s kind of simple and broken down and repetitive so that you can kind of latch on. Like, “Okay, Soy. That means ‘I am.’ I am this, I am that. I love that simplicity.
Since she’s gone solo, Amparo’s gotten a little more spiritual. Right now she’s in South America, hanging out with this shaman in Argentina. I like that her musical path and her spiritual path and just her day-to-day life is taking this authentic filter, and you’re drawn in by music and the story of the words. When you meet people like this, you’re like, wow, they’re the real deal.
Neko Case, “This Tornado Loves You”
This is one of our favorites. It’s Sergio’s favorite too, and he chose that one. I have known Neko since 2000-2001, and we’ve gotten a lot of playing on her records. What great song, and what a great force of nature.
I’m not always in constant touch with friends like Neko, but maybe we’ll see each other on tour, and consistently she’s asked John and I and some of the other Calexico members to be a part of some of her records. I’ve never asked her to be on a Calexico record till Edge of the Sun, so Sergio again was like, “C’mon, she’s coming through town with these photographers, she’ll have time to come by.” I was like, “You’re joking, man. She’s busy. She’s probably exhausted from being on tour like all of us.” But she came in and she put some beautiful vocals on the bridge to the song called “Tapping on the Line,” which is one of the more unlikely Calexico-sounding songs. She just cruised in and gave some great vocals, and then she just kind of gave us a hug and went off to play a show.
Devotchka, “All of the Sand And All of the Sea”
Sergio plays with Calexico and Devotchka. This is a great song. Nick Urata has this incredible voice. He’s got a soaring vibrato. It’s really strange. You just can’t help but feel this connection to the turn-of-the-century vibe. There’s something about him that’s so unique. Tom Hagerman is also guesting on this record — he’s the violinist with Devotchka. He’s sitting in on a couple of songs. Tom’s playing on “Miles from the Sea,” ironically. Then Nick is singing on the last song of our record called “Follow the River.” Calexico has played shows where Devotchka has opened up, and then we seen them kind of take off and keep going. They’ve had some great soundtrack appearances. I think they’re doing great here in the States.
Band of Horses, “No One’s Gonna Love You”
This is just one of those songs. It’s a total classic. It totally reminds me of some of that great guitar-work from some of the bands in the ’80s — twangy, baritone, angular kind of guitar from bands like the Cure and stuff like that. For me there was that element — especially in the intro — where I was like, what is that? Is that a Cure song? Gang of Four?” It’s some kind of ballad with a lot of delay. Then you hear [Ben Bridwell’s] voice. The quality and character of his voice is not like a typical rock or pop voice. In some ways, he shares a similar kind of quality that Neko has where it just really cuts through and it really takes the listener somewhere else. He does a great job on transporting.
“Spill The Wine” by Eric Burdon
I love the way this song just builds and builds and builds. It’s a super-long song — almost five minutes. Then two-and-a-half minutes in, you get a chorus with this crazy line: “Spill the wine / take that pearl.” It’s so ‘70s. I love this song. It puts a smile on my face. It’s about capturing a moment, just a spice of life.
Eric is on Calexico song, “Roll Tango,” that appears on the deluxe edition of Edge of the Sun. It’s like Tom Waits meets Greek Rebetiko meets Eric Burdon with a younger version of War. It was a lot of fun making that whole thing happen. I mean, Eric’s been playing since the early ‘60s. He loves all kind of music. The first time we met was in Joshua Tree, California. He came to see us play at a place called Bison’s Pioneertown. It was really fun getting to meet him, and we’ve stayed in touch loosely over the years.
Another song on the record is called “World Undone,” where there are some Greek musicians playing on some Calexico tracks, [and Eric goes], “Yeah, you guys have this incredible energy. There’s like this white light just like beaming from the studio and you guys, I don’t know what was going on, but you guys are really tapping into a great creative energy.”
Gaby Moreno, “Ave Que Emigra”
Gaby’s kind of a younger emerging Latin singer. She’s originally from Guatemala. She’s been living in Los Angeles now for a couple of years. She is also doing a lot of collaborations. Gaby is super-prolific singer-songwriter. Very popular in Guatemala and Central America and more and becoming popular here in North America. She’ll be touring in late spring with the Punch Brothers on the East Coast. We saw that and were like, “Aw, man. We would love for her to open for us.” I just finally decided, like, fuck it, let’s have her open up. I mean, who cares?
We’re honored that she will be on tour with us on those late-May/early June days. She’s sitting in on a couple songs on the record: “Beneath the City of Dreams,” and also “Miles From the Sea.” I just thought it’d be great to have some of those vocals that she’s done represented live. It’ll be fun.
Pieta Brown, “Do You Know?”
Oh, Pieta. She used to live in Tucson for a little while. She’s also the daughter of a very famous folk singer and songwriter, Greg Brown. We’ve collaborated a bunch in the past. She sang on a song a couple years ago called “Slowness” on Carried to Dust, and she also co-wrote and sang on the song “Fortune Teller” from the last record. She’s got a low-key, smokey voice. She’s got a soulful feel. It reminds me sometimes of, when she’s performing her own material, of ’70s Dylan, in some ways.
Her latest record is called Paradise Outlaw, and there’s a really great collaboration on the song “Do You Know?” with Amos Lee, who’s a good friend, and I worked with him on his record called Mission Bell. I wound up helping producing that record, and I did backing on some of those tracks, so we’ve maintained a good friendship, too. It’s really good to see that Amos and Pieta did a song together, and when I heard her record, this song really stood out.
Thomas Konstantinou, “Chioni”
The next song is one of the members of this street band called Takim. This is the only thing we could find on Spotify. It’s cool because, again, it’s acoustic, but its instruments are from a traditional Greek and Mediterranean background. You’re hearing violin, but you’re also hearing some regional percussion, some hand drums, and there’s also this pretty cool instrument that we got to see when were in the studio called the kanun. It’s kind of like a hammer dulcimer played with little metal fingerpicks on the fingers, and that was really cool, getting to see something like that played live in the studio. It’s featured on the song “Lopango.” They play it on the song “World Undone.”
The way we connected was, we finished up a tour in Greece, and the local studio there, the engineer is a teacher, and he brought his class to do our sound check. We got to meet him and his students, and he said, “If you guys are ever in Greece again, come visit our studio, come on by.” So, sure enough, we visited them and saw this band Takim playing, and we were blown away. I said, “I want some of those guys on the session.”
Carla Morrison, “Hasta la Piel”
Carla Morrison is one of the most famous singers from Mexico from the early 2000s. She’s won two Latin Grammys. I love her voice. There’s something about her voice that’s very soothing. A lot of ballads, a lot of love songs. She’s also featured in this movie called Hecho en México, and I really love that movie. It just kind of goes around the country of Mexico, showing different artists and musicians and places. When you hear her voice in that context… it just really stuck with me.
I was really excited I got the chance where she could actually contribute vocals on a song called “Moon Never Rises,” which is another love song. She sings on the third verse and helps sing on the choruses, and she’s singing in English. I was like, “Wow, she’s from Mexico.” I know she lived in Phoenix for a little while in the early 2000s, it turns out. So I was listening to the melody of our song, and I was like, “What if we wrote some lyrics to the best of our ability to write for a singer in Spanish?” So I laid down something and Sergio gave me some of the translation, and it was really cool. We sent it to her, and there was this beautiful line that she was singing in Spanish: “Without love, the moon never shines,” which I thought was a beautiful sentiment.