Ahead of run of tour dates later in the year, Calexico and Iron & Wine soon release Years to Burn for their debut collaborative LP. They first made an artistic connection with In the Reins, an EP released in 2005 that brought the trio, Sam Beam, Joey Burns and John Convertino together. Offering their music up to a wider audience the collaboration has opened doors, crossed genres and brought together a plethora of influences that make for an interesting and varying album. With clear Neil Young, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and yet also Dirty Three, Beirut and James Taylor Quartet head nods, there is much to keep their fans listening to this most recent offering.
Beam, Burns and Convertino got together in Nashville for four days of recording in December 2018. Together with Niehaus, veteran Calexico trumpet player Jacob Valenzuela and frequent Beam cohorts Rob Burger (Tin Hat Trio) on piano and Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing, Fiona Apple) on bass, they found a studio in the Sound Emporium, which was famed for being founded in the sixties by Cowboy Jack Clement.
Another addition to the formula was engineer Matt Ross-Spang, whose recently produced Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, worked with Memphis legends like Al Green, and won a Grammy for mixing Jason Isbell’s album, impacting on the sound, rendering it differently to the EP.
Beam wrote many of the songs for Years to Burn, as he did for In The Reins. But there was a real collaborative approach with the album. And it’s been fifteen years since the EP was released, if nothing else that will affect the sound. And it’s not to be expected to be honest, knowing Beam’s work only, and little of Covertino and Burns.
Midnight Sun hones beautiful harmonies, Father Mountain is somewhat anthemic, with lyrical beauty, and Outside El Paso is atmospheric, discordant and almost cinematic. Follow the Water takes it back to what I know of Iron & Wine. The Bitter Suite is another that amplifies their sweet harmonies, and choral vocals. Title track, Years to Burn, has a more dramatic intro, and is yet subdued folk, combining brass, guitar, drum and piano to culminate an affecting song. However, it’s the Tom Petty-influenced What Heaven’s Left that stands out on this album, building with time, exploring several genres, eventually exploding at the end in a full-blown soulful brass piece. A genre-defying album, the variation in Years to Burn will find you still listening once the eight tracks are done.
Years to Burn is out on 14th June, via City Slang.