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  • Writer's pictureTony Harris


Some times when a single is unsuccessful, you can trace the usual market forces that might affect any product launch - the timing, the location, the strength of the competition. You can then add in other factors such as distribution or airplay and if these levers are not handled correctly, an expensive flop can follow.

However, as I was thinking about the world of the "Should've Beens", there are clearly some records that, no matter how brilliant they were (and still are), were just never ever going to cross over. I was thinking about this while I was listening once more to the glorious "Crystal Frontier" by Calexico.

Indeed, if I'm to be accurate (and you know, dear reader, how I prefer to be), the version I am referring to was a later recording and single release "Crystal Frontier (Widescreen)" and it is rightly named because I doubt you could have heard a more cinematic sounding single since Hugo Montenegro's cover of "The Good The Bad & The Ugly".

Released in 2000 and 2001, it did not make a dent although its album forebear "Hot Rail" (it was a bonus track) did squeak into the Top 60. In a chart dominated by Irish boybands, solo Spice Girls and the early days of Garage, it seems hardly surprising that a single featuring the authentic blast of a Mariachi band didn't make it to the popular airwaves.

Calexico are rightly named after a town in California even though they come from Tucson; their music tends to be a fusion of Southwestern rock and Tex-Mex blues all underpinned with indie sensibilities. Their vocalist and main writer Joey Burns has the sort of voice that sounds like it has just gargled gravel for fun and the whole atmosphere feels like a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western.

In that description alone, I should have known not to pin my hopes on this being in the slightest bit successful. Though in fairness, this is the year Santana came back from the dead with "Smooth" so I don't think it was an entirely unjustified attempt.

But the imprint of Tex-Mex in the UK can be best summed up as "La Bamba" by Los Lobos. Another fantastic and innovative band whose albums such as the beautiful "Kiko Moon" have won Grammys and "How Will The Wolf Survive" makes the list of Rolling Stones Top 500 ever and yet are reduced ta novelty soundtrack band.

Why would anybody want to buy a record like this?

Because it sounds like the most exciting movie by Robert Rodriguez you've never seen - surely the house band would be playing this in "From Dusk Till Dawn". It starts with a signature echoing reverb loop, with a stab of brass blast and you're immediately transported into the world of the strange.

And the excitement just mounts as the mariachi guitars scratch away for all they're worth with the trumpets putting in a plaintive but hypnotic riff. It just becomes a heady whirl before an abrupt stop, signalled by the brass blast and then, the whole rollercoaster starts up again.

As an aside, that piercing brass blast that opens up, may explain why in 2008, the song was chosen by a Tucson congressman to be the alarm call played through by NASA to the astronauts on the Space Shuttle (I don't make this up). I'd be up like a shot if that clicked in at 630am (gravity or not).

This is underpinning the deadpan delivery of Joey Burns as he paints a picture of both sides of the Rio Grande -rattlesnake tails, missing bodies, lost cities of gold. Of course, if it sounds like a movie, that might well be because the lyrics were based on the great set of short stories published under the same name as the single by Carlos Fuentes. Burns uses Fuentes characters to illustrate this mysterious borderland at the heart of the song- "the 'river of tears" - long before there was any talk from a former president of a wall being used as a divider instead.

It's dark, it's exciting and it's magnificent - so let's keep this one to ourselves.

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Dec 04, 2022

Fascinating, as usual. I'm well into the band. I have a version of the song that is on their Ballad Of Cable Hogue CD single, but will now play Spot The difference with the Widescreen variant....


Dec 04, 2022

Thanks for writing about this! I remember being mildly surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) that this and Gómez’s Bring It On were albums we both shared. - Cels

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