New West Records are beginning to make a real name for themselves as the leaders in quality music DVDs. The ‘Live From Austin, Tx’ series of DVDs features previously unreleased performances from the Austin City Limits television show and I’ve yet to view one where the picture and sound quality fail to impress me every time I watch the DVD.

By taking the cream of the artists and bands that inhabit the Americana genre and all of its offshoots New West Records have built up an impressive series of live DVDs.

Any fan of the Tucson collective built around guitarist and vocalist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino will already have bought this DVD of course; there are not so many DVDs of the band in concert available, but if this disc can find its way into the machines of those not yet converted to the ever-changing music that Burns and his fellow musicians make then the band will gain a lot more followers. I’ve never been a great fan of the live album. If you were at the actual concert then it served as a fantastic reminder of that night but really, for those not at that particular concert, who really wants to listen to an album of live songs that for the most part sound better on the original studio album that they came from ? In more than four decades of listening to music there are only two ‘live’ albums I still listen to regularly, John Mayall’s ‘The Turning Point’ and ‘The Who Live At Leeds’. Of course as well, I lend an ear to any Jimi Hendrix live album in the hope I’ll hear something I haven’t heard before.

But live DVDs are a completely different thing. A number of in-concert DVDs have actually made me want to go out and check the band / artist in question next time they play a town near me and I have to say that the ‘Live From Austin, Tx’ series of DVDs are the best I have seen so far. The sound, in stereo and 5.1 surround sound, on all the DVDs I have heard in this series to date is fantastic. You’ll feel that you are actually in the crowd close to the band and the picture quality is simply breathtaking, some of the best I’ve seen on an in-concert DVD. This series of DVDs really is exceptional.

As for the actual music on this DVD, there are four songs from the band’s then current album, ‘Garden Ruin’ (this concert was actually filmed on 13th September 2006) of which ‘All Systems Red’ which closed the album is a particular highlight. It features a blistering guitar solo from Joey Burns which proves that the band can cut it live as well as on tape. The other fourteen songs are pulled from all phases of the band’s career, ‘Stray’ from 1998’s ‘The Black Light’, ‘Not Even Stevie Nicks’ from 2003’s ‘Feast Of Wire’ and a superb cover of Love’s ‘Alone Again Or’ which, if fading memory serves me right was featured on an E.P. back in 2004 on which Nicolai Dunger lent a hand with the vocals. Trumpets have always played a major part in the sound that Calexico make and, although they are an expected instrument on this song, elsewhere the playing of Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela really defines the sound of Calexico.

For ‘Roka’ which is one of the new songs taken from the then current album ‘Garden Ruin’ the talents of Salvador Duran are introduced with his passionate vocals and shaker playing. This song is the perfect introduction to the sound of Calexico for any newcomer and the performance on this DVD is outstanding. Just when they have you thinking that it can’t get any better, Joey Burns introduces Sam and Sarah Beam from Iron and Wine and displays yet another take on the sound of Calexico. With weeping pedal steel from Paul Niehaus, violin from Sarah and vocals from Joey, Salvador and Sam they take a song that originally featured on ‘In The Reins’ a mini-album from 2005, called ‘He Lays In The Reins’, and make it the highlight of this show.

In displaying a more traditional pop / rock sound with ‘Letter To Bowie Knife’, Calexico prove that they can switch from one musical genre to another with ease and Paul Niehaus once again shows what an accomplished guitar player he is.

This is an excellent performance, well-captured and presented. I’d go as far as to say that it is the best I’ve yet seen in the ‘Live From Austin Tx’ series and is one for old and new fans of the Tucson collective alike.

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Commenting On: Live from Austin, Texas, 13/9/2006 - DVD-Calexico

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