Calexico / Iron & Wine – Years to Burn review

Secret Meeting score: 70

by Joseph Purcell

Music is littered with collaborations, and it’s rare that the focus is in making art, rather than through rather than to flex their own creative egos or synergise fan bases. Conversely, fifteen years ago, Iron and Wine teamed up with the Latin infused country group, Calexico, on a collaboration that allowed both artists to flourish and develop – the cult In the Reins EP. Now, the two bands revisit this venture on the intimate Years to Burn. While 2005’s effort was written solely by Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, Years to Burn is a record with a joint song writing focus. Despite Beam again providing a substantial amount of material and arrangements, Calexico’s Joey Burns also penned a track and brought a spontaneous improvisation to the recording sessions in Nashville.

This focus on collaboration and freedom to explore ideas is evident on the epic complexities of standout The Bitter Suite (Pajaro/Evil Eye/Tennessee Train)- a rolling traverse of three sections, with a ferocious instrumental complimented immaculately by intricate folk arrangements. Yet the true quality of Years to Burn is its slow burning. The tracks build and smoulder as if a direct line of conversation has been opened to the listener. The layered vocal whispers compliment and intertwine, building an emotional wave that breaks with a euphoric crescendo. This is none more evident than on the guitar rattling burst of Father Mountain and the sing a long inducing In Your Own Time, while the seductive Midnight Sun evokes Dazzling Blue era Paul Simon, becoming more enchanting with each listen.

Despite the undoubted highs, Years to Burn does occasionally feel a little like a missed opportunity – particularly on Follow the Water and the album’s title track, which fail to take off, and ultimately feel a little acoustic music by numbers. Nevertheless, Years to Burn is a largely positive affair, bristling with a charming edge and certainly one which we hope ensures that both artists collaborate again in the future.