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POP MUSIC REVIEW

From a Calexico Iron forge

October 20, 2005|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

THE best collaborations wind up sounding like both participants and neither. So it was for much of the set Tuesday at the Wiltern LG in which Miami's Iron & Wine and Tucson's Calexico joined on some songs from their new "In the Reins" mini-album. The combination sounded a bit like Scottish sophisticates Belle & Sebastian -- albeit with raw Americana twists.

That was the alchemy when the restrained whisper of the long-bearded Sam Beam, mainstay of Appalachia-influenced I&W, met the mariachi trumpets and chamber-country accents of the border-straddling Calexico. Even a version of the Velvet Underground's drone-pop classic "All Tomorrow's Parties" somehow took on Anglo-leaning folk-rock characteristics with the harmonies of Beam, his sister Sara and Calexico leader Joey Burns. Yet it didn't lose the experimental country-folk touches that have made each act a much-lauded insider in the outsider music movement.

That meant there could still be surprises even though neither band held back in individual sets that preceded the concluding portion. In a compact half hour, Calexico touched on all the aspects of its heady blend: Gram Parsons-toned country-rock, Neil Young garage-folk, Mexican street music and desert psychedelia in such originals as the dark-hued "Not Even Stevie Nicks" and a version of Love's "Alone Again Or."

Beam's ghostly folk-blues -- gorgeous lullabies of love and death -- at first Tuesday seemed to have taken on some new singer-songwriter qualities recalling Young, Paul Simon and Nick Drake. But as other musicians (including some of the Calexico members) joined in, the performance grew more and more outward while retaining Beam's intense intimacy.

In just the fourth show of the teamed tour, there was some sense that the musicians were still getting comfortable with each other. But the 10 players never crowded each other. And the potential for musical explorations as the tour continues is tantalizing.

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