Continuing the Tijuana Brass meets Giant Sand and Ennio Morricone in a dark neuvo-waveo spaghetti Western approach they've gradually refined over the past two albums, multi-instrumentalists John Convertino and Joey Burns keep exploring terrain they've uniquely staked out. While not as cinematic, sprawling, and impressive as 1998's The Black Light, the duo create vivid soundscapes as dry, hot, and shimmering as the weather of their Tucson, Arizona home. Although they subtly expand their palette in all sorts of interesting ways, the spooky, late-'70s Miles Davis feel they inject into the nearly eight-minute "Fade" through jazzy drums, spacy vibes, and ominous cello works best. The songs, especially the appropriately named atmospheric instrumentals "Untitled II" and "Untitled III" tend to meander, but the duo keeps peeling back more layers and different instruments to pull the listener's interest. "Sonic Wind" and "Ballad of Cable Hogue" are as succinct, melodic, and tight as they've ever been, and Joey Burns' yearning, whisper of a voice suits this evocative music perfectly. This could easily turn into schtick, though, and it's to the duo's credit that they not only take themselves seriously, but don't pummel their weirdness into the ground. Instead, they push and knead the already elastic boundaries of a genre they've practically created, in jazzy, bluesy, and experimental directions that indicate they have a rich future ahead of them. Hot Rail isn't a great album; it's far too spotty and inconsistent musically. But it's an important one because it proves Calexico isn't content to remain stuck in an intriguing but limiting rut and is willing to explore new sonic directions while maintaining a distinctive identity and vision.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz