CALEXICO with Raising The Fawn at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (March 19). $13.50. 416-870-8000.
The troubling themes that Calexico deal with on Feast Of Wire are as dark as ever. Yet notwithstanding the lyrical allusions to murder and/or suicide, along with the image of the dead man stretched across the back of the disc, there's something oddly uplifting about it. The unsettling border-town vibe is still there, but now it's mostly a dramatic device in brief song segues to ratchet up the tension. For every menacing blast like Black Heart there are three boisterously swinging mariachi-jazz jams.
And even when singer/bassist Joey Burns croons about life-ending leaps in Not Even Stevie Nicks, it's backed by one of the sunniest progressions on the album. In fact, it's probably the closest Calexico have ever come to a conventional pop song. How delightfully subversive.
"People in Germany think this is our darkest work ever," chuckles Burns from a stop in Minneapolis, "but people over here are saying just the opposite.
"I can see both sides of it, and somewhere in between those two impressions I wholeheartedly agree."
A more sophisticated approach to song arrangements is certainly an important factor in the feel of Feast Of Wire. Just putting a song like Not Even Stevie Nicks in a major key -- when just about all their other moody soundscapes are in a minor key -- is enough to lighten the mood of an otherwise bleak account of a suicidal jump.
"We'd tried to do a couple of pop-style songs in the past, but every time I tried something in a major key, John (Calexico drummer John Convertino) would stop halfway through and say, "I thought we didn't want to do this sorta thing.'"
The song came together spontaneously. After recording Black Heart, Wavelab Studio engineer Craig Schumacher noticed there was about three minutes of tape left on the reel. When Schumacher said, "Just make something up," that was all the incentive Burns needed to experiment.
"I just went into this major-key thing, which sounded to me like some Fleetwood Mac song, and when John came in with his part we had it done.
"The lyrics were inspired by my experiences growing up in southern California, where I witnessed lots of cliff jumpers -- you know, rebels without a clause. Now they've got one, Not Even Stevie Nicks...."
It's easily the best song name-checking the beguiling Fleetwood Mac singer since the Rotters' punk novelty classic, Sit On My Face Stevie Nicks.
Even though the Calexico number wasn't meant as an attack, if Ms. Nicks should take it the wrong way, the inter-generational dis war that could erupt between the Fleetwood Mac posse and the Calexico crew might produce some hilarious battle wax.
Since Nicks now lives in Scottsdale, not far from Calexico's Tucson stomping ground, the potential Arizona turf war could get ugly.
"I'm sure the next time we play Phoenix," laughs Burns, "that will be the big drawing card. I'd just like to let it be known that Stevie's welcome to come to the show. It'd be great to do the song as a duet."email@example.com