Calexico: The Black Light

Originally published in Alternative Press magazine

That Joey Burns and John Covertino have a rock and roll resume a mile long (including projects with the Friends of Dean Martinez, Victoria Williams, Richard Buckner, and Giant Sand) isn’t necessarily relevant. That they live in Tucson, Arizona—home to the largest mariachi festival in the world—may not be relevant either, but it sure doesn’t hurt. The Black Light is a nearly flawless soundtrack to lonesome Sonoran beauty.

Aside from the opening washes of Link Wray–style electric guitar, most of this record was performed on musical instruments that could be 100 years old: nylon string guitars, trumpets, cellos, shakers, accordions, and mandolins. That, and a shadowy dias de los muertos aura, gives this record its sense of timelessness. “The Ride (Pt. II)” is a lulling, dead-cowboy ditty that employs vibes and Neil Harry’s evocative steel-pedal guitar to put you down in sweet retreat. “Minas de Cobra (for Better Metal)” centers on Rigo Pedroza’s elegant trumpet work, a couple of fiddle players, and a tango groove lively enough to get the skeletons up and dancing again—for a bit.

The epic scope of this record is summarized in the closing instrumental, “Frontera,” which combines country, spy-movie music, mariachi, and ragged blues in celebration of the ultimate triumph of twilight. But even at its darkest, The Black Light still manages a sardonic grin here and there. Best enjoyed with a jug of cheap rioja, a pack of harsh cigarettes, and someone who believes in ghosts.

—John Pecorelli