Linkous shows up on Orphans ("Dog Door") just as Waits materializes on Linkous's album ("Morning Hollow"), while Sparklehorse takes the noise down a notch and foregrounds melancholy melodies with production help from Danger Mouse. Calexico also got hit with the pop stick — witness this year's Garden Ruin (Quarterstick). Borders — between north and south, white and brown, ranchero and rock — are still a major leitmotif for the band, Calexico cofounder and guitarist Joey Burns told me, citing Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy and the 1993 documentary Latcho Drom, which makes graceful connections between gypsy musicians across centuries and countries. Yet the streamlined Garden Ruin seems to represent a race from the wrecking yard of music's past, the inevitable legacy of collaborating with artists ranging from Neko Case and Los Super Seven to Gotan Project and Goldfrapp.
"What stands out the most for most people is there are no instrumentals, so that kind of soundtrack quality is not there, and the focus is on songs," the talkative Burns told me from Tucson. "But within songs there are a lot of orchestrated passages, and there's just as much variety there as there's always been."
The collaborations — and soundtracks — continue. After our talk, Burns was heading out to listen to Calexico's mixes of Bob Dylan songs for Todd Haynes's forthcoming filmic reverie on the singer-songwriter, I'm Not There. Iron and Wine and Roger McGuinn were among the group's musical partners, with Willie Nelson clocking in as the most memorable. Tracking "Señora" at the red-headed stranger's golf course–<\d>cum–<\d>studio, Burns said Nelson "barely knew he was supposed to record. Heard about it during a poker game in Dallas, and he stumbled in with friends. It was phenomenal watching his process."
Perhaps the ragtag process of Waits, Linkous, and Calexico is even getting dusted off, cleaned up, and given a new spin by another generation. One can't help but hear a little of their aural roamings in the shambling brass-band collectivism of A Hawk and a Hacksaw and Beirut. And apparently, I'm not the only one discerning an umbilical chord: those combos recently toured Europe with Calexico, Burns said. "We all bonded beautifully."
With Los Lobos
Fri/8–<\d>Sat/9, 9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF