By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Miami homeboy Sam Beam, a.k.a Iron and Wine, and those sons of the Southwest, Calexico, share something more in common than an indie ethos. Each has built an impressive reputation by making music that's elusive, densely textured, and draped in a meditative aura that begs quiet contemplation. Their first collaboration, the seven-song In the Reins, showcases the strengths of both outfits with a hushed intimacy.
The logic in this synchronicity is evident from the outset. "He Lays in the Reins" radiates the subdued sound that underscores Iron and Wine's signature style, with flamenco singer Salvador Duran echoing Beam's whispered vocal while strains of a steel guitar lend a shimmering ambiance. "Prison on Route 41" maintains the low-key sway, its deadpan disposition as sparse and parched as the desert in Arizona, which Calexico calls home. By the third track, the set reaches its peak: "A History of Lovers" is easily among the most engaging entries either band has ever offered, a midtempo tune effusively embellished by Stax-style brass.
From that point on, In the Reins reins in the proceedings via a series of elusive melodies that meander ever closer to the borderline. "Red Dust" is a gritty blues that segues from lush harmonies into a basic gutbucket stomp. "Sixteen Maybe Less" is filled with sweet, sentimental reflection brushed by more than a hint of remorse ("I met my wife at a party when I drank too much/My son is married and tells me we don't talk enough...."). The tangled "Burn That Broken Bed" and solemn processional "Dead Man's Will" don't so much wrap the proceedings as simply allow them to fade away quietly.
These nocturnal musings will appeal not only to fans of both outfits but also to anyone willing to invest the time to listen without distraction. After all, it's rare to find music so sweetly sublime.