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Review: Calexico and Iron & Wine, a reunion worth the wait

Calexico and Iron & Wine, “Years to Burn” (Sub Pop)

Reuniting on “Years to Burn,” their first full-length project since 2005, Calexico and Iron & Wine remind audiences why they initially collaborated. Strong alone, the two bands are stronger together.

Sam Beam, better known by his stage name Iron & Wine, has been something of a sensation in the indie world since the early 2000s. Calexico, with main members Joey Burns and John Convertino, is a Southwestern rock band with influences from mariachi to jazz. Together, the two are perfectly complimentary.

Beam brings his own talents to the table — a raspy whisper of a voice, telling stories and pouring out lyrics wrought with meaning. These talents are only further enhanced by those of Calexico, adding texture and depth with their musical composition.

Differentiating itself from the “In the Reins” EP, on which the two acts first collaborated, “Years to Burn” feels more self-assured, like a group of musicians comfortable playing together and not afraid to experiment.

“The Bitter Suite” serves as the perfect example of this talent realized. The eight-minute track split into three parts opens with a distinctively Calexico Spanish couplet, followed by an instrumental jam and finishing with a part that sounds like a separate song entirely. The third section would feel disjointed were it not for two lines buried in the verses — “There are dreams wild enough to pass the time” and “This dead bird wants the wings he can’t recall” — the same two lines sung in Spanish at the song’s start.

The title track has all of Beam’s usual delicacy, yet there is more to explore, as soft trumpet pushes through the melding vocals of Beam and Burns. “Midnight Sun” is one of the few tracks written by Calexico, but it feels just as at home within the album. With a folklore theme and elusive, thoughtful lyrics, it could have just as easily been written by Beam. The songwriting styles of both fall into step, seamlessly.

The reunion feels a long time coming for two groups so wonderfully in sync and complimentary. Hopefully, audiences won’t have to wait so long for their next collaboration to unfold.

Ragan Clark, The Associated Press