Published Jun 12, 2019Almost 15 years after hushed folk singer Iron & Wine (Sam Beam) teamed up with the Latin-infused country group Calexico on the beguiling EP In the Reins, they are back together for a new album, Years to Burn. In the thick of a nostalgic era when reboots are commonplace, the reunion, at face value, feels like an attempt by the bands to cash in on their past triumph. But to their credit, they're aware of how it looks: in press material, it's revealed the two bands joked the album should be called Nostalgia's A Bitch.
Instead of recycling the creative process of their initial joint effort, Calexico and Iron & Wine approached making Years to Burn differently. While all of the songs on In the Reins were written by Beam, this time the process was more collaborative, with room to improvise during their live recording sessions. This creative freedom is felt most strongly in the eight minute epic, "The Bitter Suite (Pájaro / Evil Eye / Tennessee Train)." Transitioning through three gorgeous movements — a rowdy instrumental section with a doomsday vibe that's bookended by two tender folk sections — Calexico and Iron & Wine show the power they still have together.
Elsewhere on Years to Burn, guitars rattle ("Father Mountain") and a bright brass section cries into oblivion ("What Heaven's Left") similar to the instrumentals on In the Reins. Although enjoyable, this sonic combination isn't as unique as it once was. The guitar melody of "Midnight Sun," for example, is nearly identical to that of the opening track from Beam's 2007 album The Shepherd's Dog, on which Calexico's Joey Burns appeared.
Years to Burn is a beautiful sounding recording and for fans of Calexico and Iron & Wine's initial collaborative release, this is a nice treat after all these years. But ultimately, Years to Burn doesn't have the same spark that In the Reins did. (Sub Pop)