By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

December 8, 2005

Sam Beam (center) of Iron and Wine with the band Calexico
(clockwise from top left): Jacob Valenzuela, Volker Zander,
Joey Burns, Paul Niehaus, John Convertino and Martin Wenk.

Photo by Dennis Kleiman
The boundaries of Calexico's rootsy, Mexican border sound have drifted east and south thanks to a surprising collaboration with a band called Iron and Wine.

This musical merger has probably come as a surprise to fans of both bands. While Tucson, Ariz.-based Calexico has built its fame in recent years with constant touring and by landing songs in movie soundtracks, it remains miles from mainstream.

And if Calexico is miles from mainstream, Iron and Wine is a galaxy away. But, somehow, Howard Reynolds of Overcoat Recordings had an idea that this pairing would work, and the CD "In the Reins" proves him right. Fans will be able to hear it for themselves Tuesday at Mississippi Nights.

For the past decade, Calexico, led by guitarist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino, have been making music that combines Southwestern culture with rock, country and mariachi into a cinematic stew that is rich in both sound and imagery.

Iron and Wine is Sam Beam, 31, a singer, songwriter and former cinematography teacher who was born in South Carolina and recently moved to Texas from Florida. His music, steeped in the South, is lo-fi and high-concept, made up of beautiful melodies and poetic musings on life, love and death.

And he's been doing it professionally since only 2002.

"Music was a hobby for a long time," says Beam, reached by cell phone recently on the road in Pennsylvania. "I used to work in the film industry, in lighting and production, that kind of stuff. I started teaching when the kids came along (he has three daughters) so I could actually see them.

"I came kind of late to public performance. It was never my intention to play shows. I like recording and writing music, but shows are just part of the whole package."

Beam's first CD in 2002, "The Creek Drank the Cradle," was an unadorned work fashioned on a four-track tape machine in his basement in Miami. Blessed with a soothing voice that sounds somewhat like a grizzled Donovan, Beam has continued to go for simplicity even as he has gained access to recording studios.

"I really was just making the best of what I had," Beam says of his early lo-fi days. "I was doing it as a hobby, as a way to record the songs so I wouldn't forget them. I still record a lot of stuff at the house."

One of the many triumphs of "In the Reins" is that it does not sound like a collaboration. All of the songs were written and sung by Beam, but Calexico's widescreen sound, flavored with pedal steel guitar and horns, fits them perfectly.

The music ranges from the Springsteen-like "Prison on Route 41" to the first-love "Sixteen Maybe Less" to the amazing "Dead Man's Will" ("Give this ring to my lover/I was scared and stupid not to ask/for her hand long before").

Calexico and Iron and Wine kicked off their short two-week tour Nov. 30 at the 9:30 Club in Washington. Their show features separate sets by each band, followed by a joint finale of songs from "In the Reins."

The first show was broadcast over National Public Radio and is available for download at NPR.com.

Keeping with lo-fi tradition, Beam says, "We basically arranged the songs with Joey the night before and hacked away at it."

"Oh, wow," Beam laughs after being told the bands sounded in fine form on the Webcast. "It's fun to practice on the radio."