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Years to Burn

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Review

Ever since their 2005 collaboration on the In the Reins EP, Iron & Wine's Sam Beam wanted to work again with Calexico's Joey Burns and John Covertino on another record, and vice versa. The holdup was the busy work and life schedules of the three simpatico musicians; it took many years until they could find time to rekindle the creative spark that they had shown on the EP. They finally were able to clear some precious schedule space and in late 2018 spent four days in a Nashville studio working on songs with the help of members of Calexico (trumpeter Jacob Valenzuela, pedal steel player Paul Niehaus) along with keyboardist Rob Burger and bassist Sebastian Steinberg of the Iron & Wine touring group. Unlike the previous EP, where Beam brought all the songs and the Calexico guys basically served as his backing band, on Years to Burn Joey Burns contributes a couple songs, and throughout the brief session there was a spirit of improvisation and a free and equal exchange of musical ideas. This sense of balance made it a true collaboration where each artist added something important to the other's approach. The wide-screen, wide-open sound of Calexico loosens up the sometimes cloistered feel of Iron & Wine's records, and the lyrical grace and melodic craft of Beam's songs give focus and depth to the sound Burns and Covertino bring to the table. As one might expect, the album is lodged firmly in ballad mode with loads of timeworn wisdom and easy musicianship baked into the arrangements. "What Heaven's Left" is a lilting country-rock gem enlivened by Valenzuela's swooning trumpet and given emotional depth by the heart-rending mix of Beam's lead and Burns' backing vocals; the Burns-written and sung "Midnight Sun" is a shuffling, shimmering track that sounds like Astral Weeks left out to cook in the desert -- especially when the biting guitar leads take over; and the title track is a slow-motion lament made beautiful by Beam's harmony vocals. A few songs ramp up the energy level a tiny amount with some barroom rumble on "In Your Own Time" (an old song of Beam's that is given an update), a little rambling strut on the stately "Father Mountain," and some cinematic grandeur on the middle section of "The Bitter Suite." That song, with its many sonic twists, and the short instrumental "Outside El Paso" are the purest examples here of Calexico's expansiveness and sonic imagination. The whole record is a testament to the skills of everyone involved as writers, singers, players, and arrangers, an upgrade on In the Reins, and exactly what fans of both bands would hope for in a collaboration. ~ Tim Sendra
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  1. # Track Artist Length
  2. 1 What Heaven's Left Calexico/Iron & Wine 4:50
  3. 2 Midnight Sun Calexico/Iron & Wine 4:10
  4. 3 Father Mountain Iron & Wine 2:51
  5. 4 Outside El Paso Calexico/Iron & Wine 1:48
  6. 5 Follow the Water Calexico/Iron & Wine 3:42
  7. 6 The Bitter Suite (Pájaro/Evil Eye/Tennessee Train) Calexico/Iron & Wine 8:13
  8. 7 Years to Burn Calexico/Iron & Wine 3:4
  9. 8 In Your Own Time Calexico/Iron & Wine 3:6

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