On 2006's Garden Ruin, Calexico wasn't above trying out an accessible alt-country formula: It was still the only notable indie-mariachi band out there, but that didn't mean that poppy numbers couldn't work. The conventional wisdom on that record unfairly painted the band as trying too hard for accessibility, which is perhaps why Carried To Dust makes little effort toward mainstream appeal. But the middle ground suits Calexico well, and Carried To Dust finds strength in eccentricity and simple melodies. Supposedly telling the story of a writer exploring and being inspired by the Southwest—the band plays a variety of Southwest styles, so it isn't exactly a challenging theme—Carried To Dust hits all the sounds and moods Calexico is known for, painting sweeping scenes of lonely towns and the open expanses around them. Jazzy bits, slide guitar, country tunes, and mariachi blend in the hazy distance of the desert horizon, and collaborators such as Iron And Wine's Sam Beam (on the quietly rolling "House Of Valparaiso") add to the seamless diversity. But Calexico hasn't lost its flair for the dramatic, and tracks such as "Two Silver Trees" soar without disrupting the atmosphere. Like much of Carried To Dust, it finds the right mix of freedom and focus.