With plenty left on the kitchen spice rack, Joey Burns and John Convertino offer up an EP of tasty tracks held over from last year's Hot Rail, the duo's sparse, time-traveling pastiche of Americana, roots, postmodern jazz, mariachi and psychedelic gypsy music. But where the heat gets to most people (Tucson, Arizona, earned the nickname Prune Valley for its many geriatric denizens), Calexico taps into another cool, rejuvenating spring from their sweltering homeland of choice, offering unreleased overtures, B-sides and remixes for that elusive "film that hasn't been made yet."
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"Sonic Wind" is a driving, evocative instrumental piece that conjures border towns such as Mexicali, Tecate and Tijuana -- any point along the "river of tears" where trinkets are sold near the off-ramp for centavos on the dollar. Through distinguished but desperate Latin-sounding overtones -- less Pamplona-induced stampede than warm chinook -- Calexico again sets the mood for death and miracles. A ten-piece-orchestrated "Crystal Frontier" (inspired by writer Carlos Fuentes) curses any hope of reaching the seven lost cities of gold with protagonists Marcos, Emelia and Ramon biding their time for the end of another crippling work week. A second, stripped-down acoustic version of the song finds Burns's somber voice -- sad as a bloodhound's stare -- immersing his characters in superstition and folklore, welding back the pieces of their shattered hearts. "Chanel No. 5," which offers black-market fragrance to the highest bidder, is a tail-dragging ballad made all the more beautiful by weepy steel pedals and chamber instruments (plus Mark Eitzel's production). "Banderilla" has the most traditional appeal (not that Calexico ever suffers inaccessibility due to experimentation) and finds the band in good company with both the Gypsy Kings and Los Lobos at their rootsiest. "Crooked Road and the Briar" provides another sad yarn of abandoned dreams in which the forbidding landscape keeps search parties searching and the coyotes guessing. Finally, "Hard Hat" offers the collection's most mysterious moments, with softened vibes and atmospheric sampling stretched over the length of your average daydream.
Concluded by three CD ROM videos, Sure Thing more than adequately fills in between full-length releases. And even if Calexico keeps putting off its film, there will be plenty of good soundtracks in the can to choose from someday.