Fresh off their excellent 2012 release, Algiers, Calexico returns with a live album backed by a full symphony orchestra. Recorded in Germany, Spiritoso features Calexico accompanied by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg.
Calexico’s music has always had a definite cinematic, and this tone is made even more emphatic by the orchestra’s presence. “Minas De Cobre” could be a perfect instrumental backdrop to a spaghetti western soundtrack while the swirling, noirish rhythms of “Frontera/Trigger” join symphony strings and horns in an ominous-sounding sonic marriage. Even the pronounced atmospheric swells of “Black Heart” were seemingly designed to be heard as end credits roll on a film.
What’s remarkable is how natural the symphony sounds in combination with the band, as neither side overpowers the other. On “Crystal Frontier,” the orchestra brass blends perfectly with Calexico’s mariachi-style horns, and the emphatic Latin rhythms of “Inspiracion” are not out of place when mixed with a string section. “The News About William,” which boasted orchestration on the Carried To Dust studio original, is brought to another level in a concert setting, Joey Burns reaching the top of his vocal range as the song builds to a crescendo.
The 12 tracks on Spiritoso span Calexico’s entire career, including four tracks off Algiers, giving listeners a tidy overview of the group’s catalog. One of Calexico’s greatest strengths is that they’re a difficult band to define, one that expertly merges elements of Americana, folk, surf, mariachi and alternative rock. Now we can add orchestral music to the list of things Calexico does well.
In A Word: Cinematic