If 2006’s Garden Ruin was Calexico’s attempt to live in peace with the indie-rock townsfolk of Dodge City, then Carried to Dust is their triumphant return to the outlaw life in Tombstone. There simply isn’t another contemporary band that can inhabit the jazz-inflected, spaghetti-Western, surf-rock landscape that singer/guitarist Joey Burns and percussionist John Convertino navigate so deftly on their sixth LP. In some ways, it’s a reflection of their home turf of Tucson, Ariz. But more accurately, the songs on Carried to Dust aren’t so much from a unique region as they are from a unique cinematic dimension, somewhere between Day for Night and A Fistful of Dollars.
This isn’t to say that Calexico’s vibe isn’t accessible. As Garden Ruin proved, Burns and Convertino are fully capable of writing a great pop song, and this is evident again on cuts like “House of Valparaiso” (featuring Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam) and lead single “Two Silver Trees,” which has a sort of “Tell Me Lies” Fleetwood Mac vibe to it. In the ways that matter most, though, this record is a return to the brilliant Southwestern stew of the band’s best efforts, 1998’s The Black Light and 2003’s Feast of Wire. It’s music that should appeal equally to fans of mariachi, Ennio Morricone, and My Morning Jacket, and it might be Calexico’s tightest collection yet, which is really saying something.