An unlikely collaboration, between two of the more critically acclaimed indie bands, Calexico and Iron & Wine, has produced an impressive effort. “In the Reins,” was recorded in December of last year for Overcoat Recordings. This seven song EP mixes the eclectic southwestern flavored arrangements of multi-instrumentalists Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico with the introspective and nuanced songwriting of Samuel Bream (Iron& Wine). Calexico has had previous experience helping other artists arrange their songs; evident in their 2002 collaboration with Neko Case on her dark and evocative album, “Blacklisted”-her best to date.
The duo’s influence on Bream’s songs is prominent here as well. Bream’s minimalist execution of his timeless songs gets a southwestern surge of flavor here. His songs speak of an earlier era where passions, heartbreak, drink, violence, regret, and death are closely intermingled. It is country and the blues existing in the postmodern world to remind us of simpler times. The first track, “He Lays In The Reins”, boasts the most familiar sounding Calexico arrangement opening with strumming south of the border mariachi-like guitars. Midway through the song a steel guitar joins in with Salvador Duran on percussion as he interjects en Espanola. “A History Of Lovers” is another highlight. It is the most up-tempo song on the album and the chorus is uplifted by a burst of horns during the chorus. The breathless vocals for “Sixteen, Maybe Less” are appropriate for evoking the feeling of regret for a lost love. Calexico has effectively fleshed out each of Bream’s seven barebones compositions in characteristic fashion.