Album Review: Iron & Wine And Calexico – Years To Burn

14 years is a long time to wait for more genius musical material from this kick ass collaboration. The last we heard from Iron and Wine (Sam Beam) and Calexico (Joey Burns and John Convertino) was in 2005 with their first cross over EP In The Reins. It was a 7 track blend of alternative country rock and indie folk, leaving audiences desperately wanting more. Well, we shall wait no longer as their new release is finally here!

Years To Burn emerges with a completely different feel to In The Reins. It becomes instantly apparent that this record reflects where the band members are now personally, as well as musically. Joey Burns said “it’s a chance to see where we’re at, take stock and be there for our friends”.

The opening two songs are a treat, they really set the scene with that sentiment in mind. Sam Beam’s influence is already very noticeable, his melodies and lyrics capture the listener immediately. Burns’ loose harmonies and the gentle background lapsteel create a lovely warm country feel. Then later, an at first unexpected but ultimately well suited brass section, adds a joyful atmosphere and that Calexico flare that everyone loves at the end of the first track.

‘Father Mountain’ is another song of the same feeling. However the prominence of the piano adds a different flavour to the song. Although the track is quite short and concise, one of the main highlights are John Convertino’s drums. They sound great, very open, natural and obviously Calexico-esque.

The vibe set by the first few songs is discontinued however in the next short unexpected instrumental break. ‘Outside El Paso’ comes as a shock to the listener after the chilled out nature of its predecessors. Written in a minor key and very spooky in nature, I can’t help but conclude that this may have been purposeful. Possibly to regain the listener’s attention after an easy ride, or to represent the break the bands took from each other in the gaps between collaborations and what experiences they might have had then. It is left for you to decide and just like that its straight back in to the album with ‘Follow the Water’.

A sweet song featuring acoustic guitar that is very well recorded, producing a raw and organic sound as if it was being played to you in person. The opening line evokes warm fuzzy feelings “I’ll always say I love you still, all of that water ran down the hill. Every broken thing washed away” – a stark contrast to the feeling given by the previous track.

A hidden gem on the record is ‘The Bitter Suite’ which has a very cleverly thought up title, perhaps in reference to the classical term ‘suite’ the song does deliver three distinct parts, so much so, that they could all be completely separate songs. Throughout all 8 minutes and 16 seconds, audiences are surprised by unexpected changes in rhythm, style and pace. The opening guitar pattern is hypnotic and mellow with Latin influences and a male chorus of Spanish vocals fill your ears. Almost lullaby like, the track then swiftly changes, to reveal a jangly guitar motif and musac style twinkly instrumental embellishments. An erratic horn section then leads you into a harmonised vocal ostinato, which is very catchy indeed. This section builds steadily until, after cacophony of dissonance they drop off, leaving one lonely guitar, which becomes the next section. Beam’s feathery vocals wrapped around genius libretto lead us though the last movement, as it comes to a haunting and whispery end.

The title track of this album sums up the sentiment of the whole record. The vocal variation and swapping of vocal roles is not only a feature of the song, but represents nicely the swapping of skills that must have taken place between the two artists. As an album, Years To Burn feels like a cohesive unit of songs written by one band not two. Shared experience over the years has forged strong musical and personal connections and this really comes through in their new music. A match made in heaven, listeners have been carried on a journey of talent and craftsmanship and we can only hope these two musical legends decide to work together again. Let’s not leave it another 14 years guys!

Shannon Pearl Powell

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