How does your garden grow?

Fresh from appearing on Neko Case's latest album "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood" Joey Burns and John Convertino (the core songwriters behind Calexico) aided and abetted by a talented, not to mention multi-national band of session men deliver the official follow up to 2003's "Feast of Wire".

The band's conscious decision to trade in the more exotic influences of yore (sixties surf rock, the spaghetti western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and 50's jazz) for a more straightforward set of upbeat country rock numbers (with a twist) looks set to pay rich dividends here. Opener "Cruel" imagines Love if they'd relocated to the country and invested in some mariachi trumpets. It's an ambitious number and a good pre-cursor for the musical path the band follow on the remainder of the album. "Panic Open String" despite the rather obtuse title, is quite possibly one of the best songs the band have ever written. It sparkles with summery promise, twinkling glockenspiel entwining with acoustic guitars to produce something quite magical. The guitars are turned up for the thrilling country rock of "Letter To Bowie Knife". The dreamy latino feel of "Roka (Danza de la muerte)" offers a throwback to the Calexico of old meanwhile as does the rather directionless jazz of "Nom De Plume" but neither interrupt the flow of the record, the former in fact enhances "Garden Ruin". The more outré influences may have been toned down somewhat here but the band's fifth (official) album is the their most coherent set to date and if anything Burns and Convertino have upped their songwriting ante considerably. This is particularly evident on the marvellous "Lucky Dime", a track that features some sumptuous Beach Boys-esque back-up vox. Thankfully the band have also managed to avoid the trite ballads which ruin a good proportion of Americana records. They restrict themselves here to the genuinely moving "Smash" and the epic closer "All Systems Red" which could easily pass as a number from Wilco's career high "A Ghost Is Born". Starting out as a plaintive piano and acoustic guitar affair, the track builds into a glorious crescendo of noise that witnesses the band moving into near-on post-rock territory. Calexico should be applauded here for making a record that maintains an impressively high standard of songwriting while simultaneously adding yet more new influences to the band's already diverse pallet. It'll be interesting to see what hardcore fans make of this release and the band's more prosaic approach but if they have any sense they'll embrace this record wholeheartedly.