September 19, 2005

Iron & Wine/Calexico "In the Reigns"

The pairing of Iron & Wine and Calexico might seem a bit curious, but in actuality, the collaboration works really well. Iron & Wine’s mastermind, Sam Beam, sings with a dirty, dusty, whiskey-drenched croon that resides somewhere between haunting and desolate, while Calexico’s music has always sounded like the soundtrack to a Spaghetti western’s dirty, dusty barroom. So it’s really not a surprise that the In the Reigns a too-brief seven song EP, is quite wonderful.

Many of the songs on In the Reigns sound like extensions of Iron & Wine’s regular sound. Songs like “He Lays in the Reigns” and “Sixteen, Maybe Less” are typical sad-sack Beam affairs. With the help of Calexico, though, these songs have an added depth, thanks to the additions of such things as pedal steel, piano and vibes. These songs are nice, but In the Reigns is truly rewarding when the two parties bring their talents together and create music that’s different from their repertoire. “Red Dust” is a surprisingly funky barroom-blues rocker, accentuated by some great singing and a really great organ lick, while “Burn That Broken Bed” is the best song the 1970s-era Crosby, Stills & Nash never produced. The real winner, though, is “A History of Lovers.” This number is a beautiful, upbeat country love song; while Beam might be known for making sensitive music, he’s never sound this joyously happy before.

Collaborations like this often tend to be one-off affairs. While that’s simply the nature of this game, it would be a shame if the two parties never paired up again. If that is the case, In the Reigns is a beautiful document of a brief love affair. But let’s hope that this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

--Joseph Kyle

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