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For Calexico, diversity rules

Knitting Factory, West Hollywood, Cal., Jan. 11, 2002

By Dan MacIntosh

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - Fans of Calexico's unique blend of trumpet-accented Mexican/American music packed the Knitting Factory for just over an hour's worth of infectious music. Too North of the border to be called mariachi, yet much too ethnic to simply be labeled as country, founders Joey Burns and John Covertino led this six-piece unit through a tightly arranged and performed set.

Burns, who sings with a feather-light voice, sometimes appeared at the brink of being lost inside the many contrasting musical elements within his own band. At any given moment, Calexico could have been called a jazz combo, a truck stop country outfit or a Mexican wedding band; the group is just that darn diverse.

Descriptions varied with each different instrument that was being featured in a particular song. If, for example, standup bass and vibes were the central focus of a tune, the combination of Miles Davis and Gil Evans came immediately to mind. But when pedal steel stepped up to the front of the mix, the group took on the sweet feel of a honky tonk jukebox, and when the group's two trumpeters chimed in, one was transported to some mythical bullfight or spaghetti western of some sort.

What snatches of song lyrics that could be picked up within this swirl of sound leaned towards a kind of musical film noirs, and it somehow seemed like at least somebody was getting shot in every other song.

There aren't many truly original sounding artists on the modern music scene - especially within the derivative alt.-country world. But Calexico is original, highly appealing and just plain good.

Mark Olson opened the show by taking a break from performing with his wife Victoria Williams in the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, and concentrated on songs from his solo album "My Own Jo Ellen." Assisted by only a percussionist, Olson alternated primarily between strummed guitar and soulful electric piano versions of his homey - yet quirky - songs. Olson songs are carefully constructed character studies, which can be funny (as on "Diamond Davey") or sad (as with "Rosalee").

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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