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Calexico - Convict Pool

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Artist: Calexico

Album: Convict Pool

Label: Quarterstick

Review date: Mar. 23, 2004

Like their stylistically and alphabetically compatible Southwesternists Califone, Calexico deals in sad, seedy lamentation. It’s the feeling you get when you need to talk to someone and everyone in town already knows too much of your business. It’s paralyzed wanderlust. You can smell the sawdust on the floor and see the 3 p.m. sunlight flaring through the window.

Which makes the band’s cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or” a real oddity. You’ve heard this song, even if you weren’t a British Invasion geek until Wes Anderson’s ascendance. It’s Anthony and Inez’s makeout number in Bottlerocket. Under Arthur Lee and Brian Maclean's care, it’s sweetly optimistic. (“I heard a funny thing / Somebody said to me / You know that I could be in love with almost everyone / I think that people are the greatest fun.”) When Lee says “I will be alone again tonight, my dear,” it’s a come-on, plain ‘n’ simple. But in Joey Burns’s reading – he sounds like he’s gnashing his teeth as he grumbles the words, maybe to keep the supper flies out of his mouth – there’s a sense of desperation, like that feeling of mortal terror after a euphoric experience that you’ll never feel that way again. Our narrator sounds like a man who had outrageous, wall-climbing, hair-pulling sex a week ago and has blacked out on Cuervo every lonesome day since. It’s a uniquely unpleasant cover tune, heart wrenching in its impropriety.

Dominique Ane’s “Si Tu Disais” is more apposite and thus less striking, but the pedal steel/trumpet courtship alone puts it squarely in the upper half of the Calexico jukebox.

All the originals are grand additions to the canon as well. The oom-pah waltz “Praskovia” ferrets the festivity out of Calexico’s ramshackle melancholia. “Convict Pool” strips the band down to acoustic and some shuffling percussion, and Burns mourns the taming of feral men like Thom Yorke singing for quarters at a Cheyenne Greyhound depot. “Sirena” brings our boy a bit closer to his mariachi dreams, with backing vocals that float up and seduce the ceiling.

Convict Pool also packs in a few minutes of video: An amiable Cartoon Network Shorty called “El Kabong Rides Again,” backed by the band’s “Minas De Cobre.”

By Emerson Dameron

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