Calexico & Iron And Wine: Indie Collaboration Of The Year

Despite their differences, Calexico and Iron and Wine have formed one of this year's most interesting collaborations.

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Calexico (a Tucson, Ariz. band that mixes rock riffs with Mariachi rhythms) and Iron And Wine (a group that's essentially singer-songwriter Samuel Beam) have formed one of this year's most interesting collaborations.

Playing packed shows across the country in moderately sized venues, the two groups have led a tour, soon to conclude, of indie rock cross-pollination, inviting guests along the way in the style of Bob Dylan's famed 1975 "Rolling Thunder Revue" tour or The Band's collaborative "Last Waltz" concert.

In New York, banjo-playing Sufjan Stevens came aboard. In Los Angeles, it was bassist Mike Watts, formerly of the `80s post-punk band the Minutemen. James Mercer from the Shins came along in Portland, Ore.

"We try to invite guests out to make the show that much more special, to get outside of your own path," says Joey Burns, Calexico frontman.

The collaboration began with "In The Reins," a seven-song album released earlier this year by Calexico and Iron and Wine, featuring songs written by Beam and played with Calexico arrangements.

Describing his musical tastes, Beam frames the overarching theme of their venture: "There's a lot of music out there."

A Florida native, the bearded Beam ? more amusing and mischievous than his songs would suggest ? worked as a film instructor in the late `90s in Miami, recording lo-fi basement tapes in his spare time. Beam has since released two critically acclaimed albums featuring his gentle whispers and acoustic strumming.

Founded by Burns and drummer John Convertino, Calexico have been around for nearly a decade. The group includes horns, vibraphone and steel guitar. Usually, half of its albums are instrumentals.

They've done session work with singers like Richard Buckner and Vic Chesnutt. But the band has grown in popularity on its own, especially since its 2003 album, "Feast Of Wire."

Burns jokes that it was an "Internet hook up" that first got the bands together. In actuality it was Howard Greynolds, the owner of Overcoat Records and a friend of both, who had the idea for the collaboration.

Originally, there was thinking that Burns and Convertino could be the backing band for Iron And Wine's debut, but they weren't able to get together until "In the Reins."

"It was a very natural and innocent thing that I think I kept going (by getting them together)," Greynolds says. "We never intended to tour, but when we made the EP, everyone got on so well."

Beam, songwriting poet, and Calexico, masters of instrumentation, turned out a good match. "I think we all have varied musical tastes and it all kind of fits," says Beam. "So that's what we try to get across ? it's kind of how you define your genre of self."

Read more at AP.

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