Album Review: Iron & Wine and Calexico – Years To Burn (Sub Pop)

Nearly 15 years after their first collaboration, Iron & Wine and Calexico mix it up again.

Clocking in at just over 30 minutes and containing eight songs, I’m not sure if Years To Burn counts as a mini-album or a maxi-EP.

What it is, is damn good.

Last time these two acts got together, on 2005’s In The Reins EP, Calexico pretty much acted as Iron & Wine’s Sam Beams’ backing band…with Sam singing and writing all the songs.

This time around it’s more of a true collaboration. Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino contribute songs plus bring on board band members Paul Niehous (pedal Steel) and Jacob Valenzuela (trumpet). Meanwhile Sam Beam brings pianist Rob Burger and bass player Sebastian Steinberg from his touring band.

They all met up in Nashville, where they recorded they album over the course of a few days…taking the Calexico boys out of their usual Tuscon, Arizona studio.

But while they may be a thousand miles from home, you can still hear the desert in their songs and in their playing. It’s a sound that fits comfortably alongside Sam Beam’s own Southern-style indie-folk.

Things get underway with In Your Own Time, an easy-going country-folk tune written and sung by Sam.

“Come meet the family and get warm by the fire”, invites Beam. “Someone will catch you if you want to fall”, he reassures, as Joey adds harmony vocals. Burger’s Floyd Cramer-style piano gives track a Nashville vibe.

Up next is Midnight Sun, written and sung  by Joey and featuring just a wisp of pedal steel guitar. Sam Bean is there to add his call and response bvs as the track shuffles along, beginning with hushed intimacy and then daring to get a bit louder as the guitars chime in at the end.

The mood is jolted a bit with the under-two minute instrumental Outside El Paso. Valenzulela’s trumpet announces the track’s arrival, as the band dives in to a noisy studio jam.

That sense of musical adventure is further explored on the 8-minute The Bitter Suite…essentially three tunes in one, the first a brief intro, titled Pajaro, sung in Spanish, then a lengthy instrumental section called Evil Eye and then, finally, the dreamy Tennessee Train. For those wanting to hear what these musicians can really do when they feel like letting loose together, this is the place to go.

Around it are three more Sam Beam tunes, all featuring his rich voice and his strong melodic tendencies.

At the end of the final song, Follow The Water, Beam sings, “No one’s walking off the same”.

I’m not quite sure if listening to these eight tracks is life-changing, but it will make your day a whole lot better.

Marty Duda