When we last heard from the Sergio Leone–worshipping Tex-Mex balladeers Calexico on 2006's middling Garden Ruin, it seemed the Man with No Name had finally died. The heralding trumpets, wheezing accordions, and textural click-clacks that defined the Tucson group had been replaced by cookie-cutter indie-rock guitars that only occasionally hinted at the band's Baja fascinations. The group's reliance on Southwestern musical clichés has inspired little middle ground since its core members transitioned from lo-fi folkies into spaghetti-Western cowpokes early on. But when their brassy dalliances started disappearing, fans and detractors took equal notice. It wasn't the cross-cultural filigrees that were absent on Garden Ruin, though — it was the heart.
Still, the group never abandoned its orquestra live, and that may be why Carried to Dust's return to form sounds so welcoming. From the symphonic strings on "The News About William" to the horns of "El Gatillo (Trigger Revisited)," Calexico sounds comfortable with both sides of its personality again. "Writer's Minor Holiday" would merely be a dated poem were it not for the myriad cymbal crashes and guitar strums holding it up; the cascading piano notes of lead single "Two Silver Trees" sound too pretty to be premeditated. Moreover, the band has learned how to employ these eccentricities for the good of the song. Opener "Victor Jara's Hands" perfectly blends soft-spoken imagery ("Wire fences still coiled with flowers of the night") with vocalist Jairo Zavala's Spanish interlude, even as the mariachi symphony plays on. Calexico's regression may or may not be financially motivated, but it fits their songs. Now they're equipped for the showdown.