Calexico with Iron & Wine at the Docks (11 Polson), Friday (December 9), 6 pm. $25. 416-469-5655, 416-879-8000.
The recent Calexico collabo with Iron & Wine wasn't a stretch for Joey Burns and John Convertino, who've maintained a highly productive sideline as a rhythm section for hire since Calexico began.
Having proved their ability to tastefully enhance the rootsy recordings of everyone from Lisa Germano and Neko Case to Richard Buckner and Laura Cantrell - adding their hallmark Tucson twang without losing sight of their role as support players - the down-low duo did a typically superb job of bringing to life the sketchy compositions of Iron & Wine's Sam Beam.
Based on the stunning results of their studio exchange, which can be heard on the fab seven-track In The Reins (Overcoat) CD, it seems Beam gained the most from the meeting.
Whereas Iron & Wine's music has always been charmingly spare, focusing on the sound of Beam's lonesome moan over a simply strummed guitar, with the full Calexico orchestra on hand - horns, pedal steel, backing vocalists and all - it's as if Beam's grainy black-and-white tunes have been reshot in technicolour.
"Lately, I've really been enjoying the resurgence of folk tendencies in the music of Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart and Sam Beam," says Burns. "So I thought that working with Sam's songs would be an interesting opportunity to try something a bit different - maybe different for all of us.
"After hearing Sam's demos, I figured we were going to do something really sparse and mellow - and I'm a big fan of Sam's minimal vocal/guitar thing - but when he found out that the full Calexico band was in town getting ready to go on tour, he wanted to try different things, like, 'Hey, let's find out what this would sound like with horns.'
"Then Nick Luca jumped on the piano and Craig Shumacher started blowing harp, and everything came together very organically in just four or five days."
The everyone-grab-an-instrument-and-join-in aspect of the In The Reins sessions has spilled over to the current joint tour, which has Calexico and Iron & Wine playing their own sets and then coming together for the finale, with different musician pals in each town sitting in.
"It's become like a Rolling Thunder Revue or Last Waltz kinda thing. We've had Mike Watt and Victoria Williams join us recently, and then there was Califone's Tim Rutili and Edith Frost. In Portland it was M. Ward and members of the Shins and Sleater-Kinney, and in San Francisco Neil Hamburger jumped on with us to tear shit up.
"Everyone's always on the road, so we don't get a chance to see our friends, let alone play with them. If the guys from the Sadies happen to be in town, it would be great to have them sit in. We'll see what happens."
Evidently, the In The Reins recording had a significant impact on the forthcoming Calexico album, tentatively titled Garden Ruin and set for release on Quarter Stick in the spring.
"It's very much a departure for us. J. D. Foster produced the sessions, and he's very much about the songs. There are no instrumentals, no mariachi-style horns and only one Latin-sounding song. It's got some more pop and rock elements, so a lot of our friends who've heard it said, 'Wow, it kinda threw me.'
"But the songs we've been playing at shows have been getting a really positive response. We're coming up on 10 years with Calexico, so I think it's time for a change."