Maggie Bjorklund – Coming Home

January 01, 1970



 “Possibly the best
Calexico record in years” read a friend’s email linking to the VPRO stream of
Maggie Bjorklund’s marvelous debut. In that tongue-in-cheek subject line, they’d
put a finger on this record’s sole blemish, though more beauty mark than fatal
flaw: This blend of desert-baked Southwestern instrumentals, country waltzes
and indie-tilting folk – all of it colored by Bjorklund’s diverse and
impeccable pedal steel lines – could easily be mistaken for one of the
Tucson-based band’s early recordings. And that would just be unfair to
Bjorklund, who’s created a near-masterpiece of the genre.


Taken in that context or not, the music is unimpeachable.
Bjorklund, a comely Copenhagen-based pedal steel player, has made a name for
herself in the U.S.
in recent years backing a handful of artists including Mark Pickerel, Exene
Cervenka, and Christy McWilson. Successful session musicians should be born
collaborators, and Bjorklund brings that mindset to her debut. She’s invited a
roster of musicians whose considerable talents are matched by the diversity of
their voices; the record’s strong suit is tying them seamlessly together
through the songwriting.


Mark Lanegan duets with Bjorklund on two tunes (the slow 3/4
waltz “Intertwined” and Morricone-flavored title track), his forlorn foghorn
voice pairing as well with Bjorklund’s delicate alto as it does with Isobel Campbell’s
on that pair’s duets. The Posies’ Jon Auer sings lead on the eerie lament “Vildspor”
and wistful shuffle “Playground,” his willowy timbre offering contrast to
Lanegan. Rachel Flotard of Seattle’s Visqueen takes two wonderful vocal turns
as well, the raven-haired beauty’s natural reverb and phrasing recalling Neko
Case’s — whose last two records featured Flotard’s backup vocals — on the Lee
Hazelwood-like “Summer Romance” and the lonely noir-waltz “The Anchor Song.”


But no matter who’s at the mic, or whether there’s anyone
there at all (four of the 11 tracks are wordless), the setting is vintage
Calexico. Bjorklund’s backed throughout by drummer John Convertino and Joey
Burns (playing double-bass here to reconstitute the duo’s telepathic rhythm
section); the basic tracking even took place at Tucson’s Wavelab studio. There are ghostly
vibes and resonant bowed bass, Convertino’s deceptively intricate brushed percussion,
dusky waltzes and nylon-stringed guitar, epic Spaghetti Western touches – it’s
a high-and-lonesome sound palette that no band does better.


You could argue the songs rely too heavily on Calexico’s
iconic sound, but Bjorklund’s pedal steel voice – a blend of Bill Elm’s
processed grandeur, Eric Heywood’s rich and elegiac swells, and the
Nashville-flavored lines of Paul Niehaus (who provided the initial introduction
to his Calexico bandmates) – is all her own. It colors the instrumentals like
desert blooms, and on the vocal tracks provides supporting accents or
additional melody lines, turning soliloquies into soaring duets and duets into richly
textured trios. If you’d never heard Calexico, you’d never know the debt
Bjorklund owes them – and even if you do, it takes little or nothing away from
these mesmerizing songs.


Romance” “Insekt” “Playground Stars” BY JOHN SCHACHT



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