The most adventurous of Calexico's tour-only CDs (still available intermittently through the band's website), Travelall is an instrumental-only full-length featuring the band's unique improvisational soundscapes. The nine cuts assembled for the 2000 Hot Rail tour anticipate elements of the band's current live sound, especially the group's occasional tilt toward jazz-like motifs during concert staples like "Fade" and "Sonic Wind." But before the jazz-phobic swear it off, Travelall's songs aren't limited to any one sonic category. The record forgoes the band's signature mariachi-flavored south-of-the-border sound, instead digging deep into Calexico's ever-expanding stylebook to tap into Native American rhythms (on "The Waves Crashing Silently Through the Dominator's Hull"), Cuban themes (a heavily effected electric guitar rave-up, "Cachaca"), the melancholic impressions of French composer Erik Satie ("The Night Is Upon Us"), and fado inflections ("Lunada Lando"). But the record works best as a showcase for the multi-instrumental talents of the two principal Calexicans, Joey Burns and John Convertino. The latter is particularly impressive on drums and percussion, his jazz and rock chops propelling the music throughout (the first 60 seconds of "Waves," the opener, is a holistic myriad of drumming techniques). Whether playing with brushes ("The Night Is Upon Us," for instance) or executing thunderous press rolls Art Blakey would have admired (particularly on "Fine Patina"), to focus on Convertino's work (preferably with headphones) is to be reminded that drums needn't be relegated to a one-dimensional time-keeping duty. Burns, too, shines on Travelall; the classically trained cellist is particularly effective on that instrument, as well as electric and nylon-stringed Spanish guitars, upright and electric basses, and vibes, which both principals play. The duo gets a big lift from three horn players (appearing separately): Rob Mazurek (Chicago Underground, Isotope 217), whose cornet graces the disc's opener; future full-time member Martin Wenk (trumpet on "Cachaca"); and Jon Birdsong (trumpet on the 13-minute epic "Flat Handed and on the Wing"). Noel Kupersmith (upright bass) and Doug McCombs (electric bass) of Brokeback also contribute to "Flat Handed," which, like other Calexico epics (think "Triple T Truckstop" from the Descamino 12" or "Singing Wind Ranch" from Aerocalexico), resembles the eerie and plaintive soundtrack to a desert noir film yet to be made. In the end, enjoyment of Travelall will no doubt depend on one's view of instrumental material in general. For those who need the familiar structure of verse-verse-chorus, Travelall will be a disappointment. But those who enjoy Calexico's instrumental interludes on the group's major releases, or who can conjure up their own mental images to accompany these songs, should revel in the magic of this rare treat.
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AllMusic Review by John Schacht