The fifth official studio album from Calexico, the Tucson collective based around the talents of Joey Burns and John Convertino, is somewhat deceptive. On first listen it seems to be a much more straightforward recording than previous mariachi and sun-soaked releases 'Feast of Wire' (2003) and 'Hot Rail' (2000). But, given time, 'Garden Ruin' has the ability to seep deep into your consciousness.
Although the horns, twangy guitars and Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western sounds are all present, albeit in a less overt fashion, this album doesn't have as many dustballs rolling through its wide open spaces. With 11 songs out of 11 tracks - a first for a band who have relied much on instrumental evocations of the Arizona desert - vocalist (and guitarist) Joey Burns has much more to do, tackling songs in both French and Spanish (the darkly delicious 'Roka' and 'Nom De Plume', respectively) and, wonder of wonders, the lyrics are actually printed on the sleeve notes.
Newly politicised, several of the songs tackle political radicalism, particularly the six-minute epic climax 'All Systems Red' ("I want to tear it all down and build it up again," shouts Joey Burns amidst the closing storm), while the solidly bass-driven 'Cruel' touches on environmental issues. But there's also breezy ('Bisbee Blue'), dreamy falsetto on 'Panic Open String' and easy-going swing ('Lucky Dime') before the more urgent rock of 'Deep Down'.
Although lovers of the earlier Calexico sound may not be terribly impressed, it is evident that Burns and Convertino are forging ahead on a new and promising path with 'Garden Ruin'. It's up to fans to follow.