Calexico and Iron & Wine – Years to Burn

Calexico and Iron & Wine's second collaborative effort, Years to Burn, establishes itself as something more than just two different artists working together

Album Review by Pete Wild | 14 Jun 2019
  • Calexico and Iron & Wine – Years to Burn
Album title: Years to Burn
Artist: Calexico and Iron & Wine
Label: City Slang
Release date: 14 Jun

Collaborating again for the first time since 2005’s In the Reins, the best way to approach Years to Burn is as a new Iron & Wine offering, upon which has been laid a palimpsest of Calexico. Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam wrote and carries vocal duties upon all but one of these songs (Calexico’s Joey Burns fronts the title track), but the more you listen, the more the nuance provided by Calexico’s instrumentation comes to the fore.

Take the album's opener, What Heaven’s Left – to begin with, you might think this gentle beauty wouldn’t sound out of place on The Shepherd’s Dog, or Beam’s more recent collaboration with Jesca Hoop, Love Letter for Fire. Then you start to pick up on pedal steel, a cushion of supportive backing vocals and trumpets that dip and soar and make a glorious racket throughout the last couple of minutes of the song. This is followed by Midnight Sun, which wouldn’t sound out of place on Iron & Wine’s Our Endless Numbered Days, but again that warm pedal steel shines through, Calexico burnishing the radiant sunshine of Sam Beam’s voice. 'Everybody knows / And they don’t know', he sings, and in the moment it feels like an obscure truth.

Outside El Paso seems to start from a more Calexico kind of a place (jazzy trumpet, dissonant guitar noise, drums like children running up and down stairs) and remains there, an instrumental respite, a shadow between the light. The darkness introduced here reaches its peak on the album’s longest track The Bitter Suite, eight minutes that begin with a Mexican lament for mixed voices, seguing into a xylophone-infused guitar grunt before graduating, finally, into a gentle Beam outro.

Obviously you can’t help but play the game of who added what to the mix but in time this fades as the songs themselves spirit you away. Whether it’s the sweet snap of Follow the Water, the gentle melancholy of Years to Burn or the laid-back singalong of In Your Own Time with which the album ends, Years to Burn establishes itself as something more than just two different artists working together – neither Iron & Wine nor Calexico needs to win the crown. It’s just a great album of great songs that is bound to bring new fans to the work of both.

Listen to: Follow the Water, Years to Burn, In Your Own Time