John Convertino of Calexico is what’s known as an ‘expressive’ drummer. Which is another way of saying he’s great. Put him behind any solid song, and you’ve got a fleshed out arrangement almost immediately. He’s wonderful on the slow burners, keeping the snare involved, and when the pace quickens to 4/4 he still knows it’s the tom that keeps you interested. Take “Cruel” on Calexico’s new Garden Ruin; despite the nice trumpet, well-placed steel guitar, piano garnishes, and sighing backing vocals, the song is essentially chorus-less, and therefore a failure. But in swoops Convertino with a thump-thumpthump, and you realize holy damn, the freak is adding a drum and bass breakbeat to a c&w song.
It saddens me to write that I don’t find Calexico exciting anymore, a risky sentiment, sure, when middle age looms (ok, I’m not that old, but I’m not under 30, either) and my knee hurts from hitting the ground twice on Sunday trying to play a game I was once good at (for the record, I made both catches). I can rationalize with my street cred- I saw Calexico via The Black Light era at Tramps with the Dirty Three and Clem Snide, and then later caught them with a full German mariachi band at Maxwell’s for a show that was so great Joey Burns asked the house sound guy if he would tour with them. I hope to heck that someone dropped a cassette into the board for that show.
The new record, like the last record, inspires less hate than ennui, a hand ful of tracks just fading to invisible for me, two or three working well, like “Letter to A Bowie Knife” and the below track, for your comsumption. But “Lucky Dime” is a stinker, and “Cruel” makes me want to listen to the Starland Vocal Band, or drink brine, I can’t decide.