Calexico – Carried To Dust

Hands in the air please for the return of Arizona's number one sons. All the tropes are in place… the brushed rattling percusion, the twangero guitar, the open, desert-evoking sound. And yes, the return of the mariachi blare that so suits the writing of Covertino and Burns. After their disappointingly 'rock' album, Garden Ruin, Calexico have returned to the southern states' alt country that's part-western, part-central American folk and all their own. Thank goodness…

In a year that's seen acts as diverse as Fleet Foxes to Conor Oberst stretch and challenge what the term 'Americana' could contain, this return to form-of-sorts is a timely reminder of how influential Calexico have been. The band's turn at last years Womad festival, with guest star Amparo Sánchez (who appears here), shone out even among the mud and rain. And while Calexico's real strength lies in live performance, Carried To Dust is a gem.

The album does have a loose concept around which it hangs: a screenwriter's search for inspiration in the wide open spaces around La La Land (Writer's Minor Holiday). But there's also room for the political poetry of opener Victor Jara's Hands (Jara was an artist/poet tortured by the Chilean dictatorship) and the pure wiggly Mexicali joy of Inspiracion or the Morricone madness of El Gatillo (Trigger Madness). All of these are guaranteed to sound astounding live.

If there's any reservation here it's because a little too often you get the sense of deja vu. The lyrical imagery and the tumbleweed dryness sails a little close to parody. It's almost as if they've had to emulate themselves to find the way forward again, the melodies not leaping out as smartly as they might. And sometimes you long for the more outre weirdness that filled the gaps on earlier classics such as Feast Of Wire. But frankly, something this good shouldn't be sniffed at. Calexico are back on track. Cause for celebration, indeed.


Simple enough package for Calexico. Not a gatefold but it dpes have that lovely art both on teh outer sleeve and on the inner, albeit flimsy, inner sleeve. As usual with calexico the sound is pretty good and full of interesting flourishes. Always a pleasure to listen to.

Kings of Leon – Only by the night

As if their towering headlining performance at Glastonbury wasn't enough, here comes the Southern-fried quartet's fourth album to prove once and for all that Kings Of Leon are now bona fide world-beaters.

In the context of a career arc this level of creativity makes perfect sense. Their sound has had a good five years to grow from post-adolescent indie to full-blown, manly stadium glory. All those U2 support slots have now been fed back into the machine. And, like U2, a timely change of production team (losing Ethan Johns but retaining Angelo Petraglia) brings a new focus. Nathan Followill's drums have to be one of the most perfect rock engines around at the moment. They never swamp a ticking grower like I Want You but still throw enough flourishes to push the songs into the red. Meanwhile cousin Matthew's guitar scorches the mix like a flamethrower. Filled with string-bending clichés; but cliches of the most enjoyable sort.

The one thing that really shows the band's confidence is their willingness to slow down and really attack these songs. Caleb claims that medication's effects ifluenced the writing and indeed, the droning insistence can be almost hallucinatory. Interestingly the first single, Sex On Fire – returning them to the fire and brimstone, gothic territory of their peripatetic father's preacher roots – is the one track that comes closest to the Strokes-aping sound that held them back in the past. But Caleb's muzzy, straining voice pushes them beyond arch post-modern irony from the big city. In interviews Caleb's talked about the boys tackling their ''roots'' again, and this album wears its colours proudly.

The U2 analogies don't stop there. Manhattan, another medium-paced stormer has the Edge's echo-fed lines running through it, albeit with more of the Kings' blues rock swagger. Obviously, the advantage of being American is that you can still believe that rock will save the world.

A minor mid-album lull, caused by perhaps too many slower numbers is broken by Be Somebody: a new wave-ish beauty that ends with a maelstrom borne on the back of Jared's rubbery bass. It only remains for Cold Desert to usher us out of the emotional devastation of this very secular three-chord church, swelling and returning at its end with optimistic verve.

Never overstaying its welcome, Only By The Night is the album that the world's been waiting for the Kings Of Leon to make.


Nice double gatefold vinyl package. Two heavyweight discs and a nice image embossd on the front cover. Discs not super heavyweight but not flimsy either. Inner sleeves are standard die cut paper.  No other inserts. This record uses far better vinyl than their previous releases but unfortunately follows the current trend for LOUD mastering.

Hugh Masekela – Hope

Over the last few years I've picked up a few records by Hugh Masekela. The south african trumpeteer has been releasing them for way longer than I've been born and I guess I still have quite a few to collect. A couple of years ago I bought his record on Bernie Grundman's 'Straight ahead' records, 'Almost like being in jazz'. It was immaculately produced and presented but the music left me somewhat cold. It was literally 'straight ahead' jazz but didn't seem to have much to stand out.

In 2004 Hugh performed live at Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley and ran through a selection of his classic tracks from over the years. 'Grazing in the grass' is there as is 'Stimela(The Coal Train)'(Coltrane??).

Some like 'Lakuta' are fairly standard, but most appealing, jazz with the trumpet obviously to the fore, but for the most part this double 45rpm set is full of the african rhythms and also vocals from the townships of South Africa where Hugh might have grown up. Its a vibrant, thrilling set of songs, a classic collision of the best musicianship and the joy of African music. I can only imagine what it was like to be there that night. It would have been pure heaven for me.

The aforementioned 'Stimela' is the last track on the album, out of 7 tracks and is a ten minute epic. This political tale of the trains that run to the mines in South Africa from all across the continent send the blood cold and the music is shocking and thrilling, tension builds and you are drawn into a frenzy. You stamp your feet and shake your head as you bow your will to that of the music. It reaches into the deepest emotions, most primitive feelings and is thoroughly rivetingly gripping.

Not only is the music of the highest quality, the musicianship peerless but the sound quality, particularly for a live environment is equally stunning. The realism, space and depth is astounding, the detail wonderful. We are blessed that such an excellent engineer was on hand that night to capture the performance. And that Analogue productions elected to put this out on the 45rpm dbl lp set that we have here. You can't get better sound than this and you really should snap this up before it is gone. Its $50 dollars but you'll never regret it. The only downside is the packaghing is flimsy and minimal, but the inner sleeves are the plastic lined paper ones that do keep your records in excellent condition.

White stripes rock on vinyl

The American duo The White Strips transcend time. Not only do they sound like they made their music in the 60s or the 70s, they have people standing in line for the new album at the now closed Tower Records store in Hollywood, reopened just for this! Plus they break new records in sales of vinyl. Yes, that’s right, seven-inch black vinyl discs. The White Stripes is a band that just sounds better on vinyl. It's as simple as that.

The White Stripes are not only bringing a classic rock’n roll sound back, they are also leading a vinyl revival by reaching the highest weekly sales for a seven-inch single for more than 20 years, as the British newspaper The Guardian points out.

The single Icky Thump – at no 2 in the UK charts – took just two days last week to break through the 10,000 sales barrier across two seven-inch formats, according to research by industry magazine Music Week.

The strong vinyl sales for Icky Thump also reflect the growing popularity of the format in the UK. Seven-inch record sales topped 1m last year, up more than fivefold in five years, according to industry data.

This is a form of old school marketing that is very effective in a digital age. As I noted in an article earlier this year, musicians these days need to be creative in building buzz about their band, both in Europe and in the US. The White Strips have proven masters at that art.

So, why are all these people lined up outside the old Towers record store? Well, it is not just to be the first to get a physical copy of the new album released June 19th. The first 200 to buy it also get a ticket to a free performance by the band at the old record store on June 20th. Now, that is something worth waiting for.

Joakim Baage