Joey Burns and John Convertino gave up the dry riverbeds of Tucson for the banks of the mighty, muddy Mississippi River to record Calexico's latest album, "Algiers."
The duo spent two weeks in New Orleans' 15th Ward, the neighborhood known as Algiers, last December, to cut 12 tracks for the release, which is due to hit store shelves on Tuesday.
The initial plan was to make the album in Europe.
"We have friends in Milan, Greece, all over who have invited us to record with them" said Burns in a phone interview last week.
When that fell through, Burns and Convertino felt the Crescent City was the closest they would find to Europe in the United States.
"New Orleans is one of the more unique cities in this country," Burns said. "It really stands out. There is some darkness there, but such an incredible history.
"I liked the idea of being on the other side of the river from the French Quarter and just across the Gulf of Mexico from Havana, Cuba. That juxtapose of place really did find a home for some of these songs, stories and characters."
Together with Wavelab's Craig Schumacher, who also made the trip, Burns and Convertino set up shop in the Living Room studio, an old wood-framed Baptist church that sits across the river from Downtown New Orleans.
The 14-foot ceilings and wooden flooring added a different flavor to the recording process, Burns said.
Songs like the opening track, "Epic," with its strumming guitar kept in time by a steady drumbeat benefited from the design.
"Just hearing drums in that setting was quite different than setting up at Wavelab," Burns said. "The building was off the ground on these concrete pillars. It was almost as if the room itself was a big wooden box."
The rest of the album, a continuance of Calexico's musical journey through the Southwest and Europe, followed suit.
Burns and Convertino developed many of the album's tracks in Tucson, but others took shape in New Orleans.
The song "Fortune Teller," a calm, delicate work penned by singer-songwriter Pieta Brown, found its legs in Algiers.
Burns was working on the music for an unnamed song when he received an unrelated email with lyrics from Brown, a former Tucsonan and daughter of folk icon Greg Brown.
The words fit.
"I edited a few things that let it flow with the melody," Burns said. "The song came naturally. It came from another place, straight through us."
The time away from Tucson helped Burns and Convertino focus during what has been a transitional period for the two.
Burns and his wife recently had twin girls and Convertino now lives in Ohio, where his wife accepted a teaching position with Kent State University.
Professionally, Touch and Go/Quarterstick Records, the longtime indie label that Calexico had recorded with since 1997, announced that it would no longer sign new artists or release new albums.
"Algiers" will be Calexico's Anti- Records debut, a label with an impressive roster of past-and-present artists, including Tom Waits, Wilco, Neko Case and Dr. Dog.
Burns said neither he nor Convertino knew what to expect from their trip to New Orleans.
"Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith," Burns said. "In this case, it worked out really well."
Hear them live
Calexico will perform tracks from "Algiers" when the band performs at the Rialto Theatre Oct. 26. The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22-$32 in advance and $24-$34 the day of the show. 740-1000.