Calexico / Iron & Wine – Years To Burn

CIW

Sometimes the waiting can seem endless. But be patient and in time everything will turn out right. It’s been fourteen years since the last outing by Calexico / Iron & Wine. That’s long enough for Chinese Democracy to appear (boo!), Kate Bush to play live (hurrah!), and for The Rolling Stones to have embarked upon about five farewell tours (meh!). In fairness, neither Calexico nor Iron & Wine has been taking it easy during that period. Between them they’ve put out no fewer than nine albums of original material. Sure, Sam Beam has also released two other collaborations, curated two full volumes of his archives, and found time to have his portrait painted. With so much going on, it’d be easy to think that Years To Burn was merely a vanity side project containing left-over material. But it’s nothing of the sort. ‘In Your Own Time’ is a lovely, fluid-sounding partnership of equals. ‘Follow The Water’ is a classic-sounding Iron & Wine track that’s only enhanced by the twosome from Tucson. But perhaps the highlight is ‘The Bitter Suite (Pájaro / Evil Eye / Tennessee Train)’, which is a sort of dystopian mini-Smile set in the Arizona desert. (Maybe). Years To Burn reminds us that even though the waiting can sometimes seem endless, some things are well worth waiting for.

Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

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“The master of reiki, he waved his hands over me, And said I eat too much steak, And hold on too long to ancient takes, And both are so hard on my heart”. Bill Callahan’s first album in five years is full of dry humour and no little wisdom. Things have changed since the last time we heard from him. “I got married”, he tells us. “To my wife”. Phew. He’s also had a son. “Giving birth nearly killed me”, he confides, probably only half jokingly. It’s a quieter album than the last few. And more free form. This is not the place to come and meet up with chorus and verse. And middle eight is nowhere to be seen. Instead, a number of the songs seem fragmentary, almost extemporaneous. Yet never slight. For an indie legend with mild country leanings, there’s a hint of jazz in the air this time around. But the lyrics remain as beguiling as ever. There are some lovely similes. “Like two wrestlers, I am mostly still”. Some poignant words about death. “I made a circle, I guess, When I folded her hands across her chest”. And more than a few thoughts about matters of the heart. “True love is not magic, It’s certainty, And what comes after certainty? A world of mystery”. I wonder what the Reiki master would say?

The National – I Am Easy To Find

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I Am Easy To Find, The National’s new album and accompanying Mike Mills-directed film, is a meditation on life. The comings and the goings. The loving and the longing. The hopes and the fears. There’s a strong sense of nostalgic melancholy. How you felt when you lied to your mother for the first time. When you realized your children were no longer children. When you lost a person you love and the days became almost unbearable. But it’s not a miserable album. As in life too, there’s the presence of uplifting beauty. In the swelling of the strings. The choir of voices. And the gentle cadence of the melodies on so many of the songs. In contrast to other albums, Matt Berninger’s voice is not always the core vocal. There are female voices, often female leads, on all of the songs. So we’re still witness to Berninger’s usual authenticity when he tells us he’s been “binging hard on Annette Bening” and “listening to R.E.M. again”. But hearing a woman sing a line such as “Lay down in the doorway in front of me, Make yourself impossible for me to leave” brings a very different meaning to the scene. When you’re stuck in the middle of life, it’s tempting to think that the last thing you need is a 68-minute slightly melancholic meditation on it. But you’d be wrong. Taking time to reflect on life is always a good thing. And appreciating the beauty that’s present in it isn’t just a good thing, it’s what gives life its very meaning with all its comings and goings, loving and longing, and hopes and fears.