My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Alan Miller

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Mono’

Album Cover_TheMavericks_MonoPassion, not purpose, leads the way on The Mavericks newest release, their eighth. Listening to old vinyl led them to record the album Monaural, where channels are filtered from a common signal path. Their mission is to take each listener on their own unique journey, and come away with a project that sounds almost precisely how it was recorded.

Nico Bolas teamed with Raul Malo to produce the album, appropriately titled Mono. The pair also helmed In Time, a critical masterpiece that garnered the strongest reviews of the band’s career. Malo, who had a writing credit for each of the songs on In Time, composed eleven of Mono’s twelve tracks.

Horns, courtesy of Max Abrams, find their way onto the majority of the songs found on Mono. I’m not personally a fan of this production choice, but they do help The Mavericks achieve the Cuban meets Tex-Mex style they only hinted at during their prime in the mid-1990s.

Album opener “All Night Long,” solely written by Malo, is the first single. He brings urgency to the track, turning what could’ve been a simple love song into a primal plea from a man to his woman. The horns are annoyingly grating, but I love the overall salsa vibe they successfully achieved.

Varying expressions of love find their way onto the majority of the horn drenched tracks. Energized by a bright mariachi-styled arrangement, “Summertime (When I’m With You)” compares feelings to seasons with the protagonist lamenting how he’d enjoy them more in the company of his woman. Malo’s vocal pairs perfectly with the subtlety of the content, which is distinctly straightforward. “Stories We Could Tell,” about a meeting between strangers, wonderfully evokes 1950s doo-wop. The production is quite busy, but feels perfect for jiving on a dance floor. The jazzy “Do You Want Me To” also feels ripped from a club, with a striking arrangement. I only wish Malo had turned in a subtler vocal, with some sultry tenderness.

Salsa creeps in again on “What You Do (To Me),” a cheekily executed exploration about the effects of love on the male psyche. Malo and Alan Miller capture the dizziness perfectly while Malo effortlessly links the arrangement and his vocal, giving each a fair amount of needed energy. Bonus cut “Nitty Gritty,” written by Doug Sahm twenty-three or so years ago, finds our leading man trying to rationalize why his woman left him. She didn’t enjoy the ‘nitty gritty’ of his life and thus bolted the first chance she had. While not a love song, “Waiting For The World To End” carries a similar tone and features ear catching turns of phrase that keep it distinguishable.

“Out The Door” is easily one of the strongest tracks on Mono and The Mavericks at their classic best. Malo wrote the fire out of the simple lyric, which is about his visceral reaction once she walks away for good. It would’ve been a home run for them during their 1990s heyday, but the busy production keeps it very good to great. “What Am I Supposed To Do (Without You)” covers nearly identical ground, expect now that she’s gone, he wonders how he’ll be able to go on. The treatment is excellent, giving the band space to showcase their harmonies on the catchy yet mournful pop leaning ballad. The wistful “Let It Rain” strips the way the noise, but nicely retains the mournful cry in Malo’s voice. “Pardon Me” is beautifully tender, with a man seeking room to display his out of character emotions.

Mono is a very interesting album, one that retains The Mavericks’ signature ability to defy convention around every turn. The use of horns isn’t my favorite and most of the arrangements are very cluttered, but they did manage to sneak in a few tunes that are a worthy addition to their legacy. It’s also wonderful to see one of the most eclectic bands in country music’s recent history unapologetically maintaining their title. The Mavericks have always been masters at what they do; making amateurs of anyone who dare try to imitate their sound.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘The Mavericks’

3148RANN18LIn September 2003, The Mavericks released an eponymous album, which was the first after leaving MCA and their last before they disbanded after their 2004 tour.

Since their inception in 1989, The Mavericks had been an eclectic band, though most of their major label work fit firmly in the mainstream country of its day. The Mavericks, however, which was released on the British-based Sanctuary Records, is in no way, shape or form a country album, nor — to its credit — does it pretend to be.

The band had enjoyed some international success a few years earlier with Trampoline. On the surface, The Mavericks, appears to be an attempt to appeal to mainstream pop fans in Europe, but I can’t find any data on how well it actually sold there. Stateside, it made very little impact, with only one of its three singles — a remake of “The Air That I Breathe”, a 1974 pop hit for The Hollies, appearing on the country charts, peaking at #59.

This is an album that has to be approached with the right frame of mind. Once the listener accepts that it is not a country album, he/she will likely conclude that it is a pretty good pop album. Some of the songs have a Latin influence, but mostly this is reminiscent of 1960s pop, before the lines between pop and rock became blurred.

There are a few names that will be familiar to country fans among the songwriting credit: Rick Trevino co-wrote “In My Dreams”. His own version appears on his 2003 album of the same name, which was produced by Raul Malo. Jaime Hanna, son of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna, co-wrote several tracks with Raul Malo and Alan Miller. And surprisingly, Dale Watson, one of the most outspoken critics of “poptry” music, had a hand in writing the Latin-flavored “I’m Wondering.”

My favorite track is the catchy earworm “Would You Believe”, which sounds like something from one of my Dad’s old Herman’s Hermits albums. Willie Nelson joins the group for “Time Goes By”, which is less Roy Orbison-esque than most of the album. It wasn’t released as a single, but seems like it could have had a shot at being a hit, although country radio had pretty much abandoned The Mavericks by now.

This isn’t the type of music I usually listen to and it’s probably not for hardcore country fans, but it does remind me of the kind of pop music that could be heard on the radio when I was growing up, and it makes a nice change of pace. It’s not essential listening, but loyal Mavericks fans will enjoy it.

Grade: B

Album Review: Rick Trevino – ‘Whole Town Blue’

Back in 2003 the Texas-born Hispanic country artist Rick Trevino (a talented but inconsistent hit maker in the ’90s) released In My Dreams on Warner Brothers, produced by Raul Malo of the Mavericks. It didn’t sell very well, and the follow-up, also produced by Malo, was shelved. Now, following their resurrection of Shawn Camp’s 1994 last year, Warner Brothers have plucked this out of their vaults to finally see the light of day. And (like Camp’s record) it was well worth reviving, proving to be substantially better than its immediate predecessor.

Like its predecessor, with which the CD release pairs it a two-on-one basis, this album has a strong stylistic feeling of the Mavericks, although Trevino’s voice is very different from Malo’s Orbisonesque tenor. The arrangements are basically country-rooted, with Mexican flourishes (lots of mariachi horns) and some strings, making a very consistent musical palette. Trevino wrote most of the generally high quality material with one or both of Malo or Alan Miller, but one of the exceptions is the standout track.

‘Separate Ways’ is a downbeat piano-led ballad with a big soaring chorus and delicate string arrangement, written by Bill Anderson, Jimmy Yeary and Wally Wilson. Starting as a closely observed third person look at a couple, once so close, and their breakup, we see how:

The road that they were ridin’ split in two

Separate ways, his and hers
A love that went from great to good to bad to worse
Separate lives, what a waste
The last thing they ever did together was go their separate ways

The narrator is scared by this example (eventually revealed in the last line of the second verse to be his parents) and promises to work at his own relationship “every day”. The song is perfectly constructed and impressively sung, and it should have been a big hit in 2007, when it was released as a single but didn’t reach the top 40.

The only other outside song comes from the hands of Rodney Crowell. His ballad ‘Loving You Makes Me A Better Man’ is pleasant enough, with very Malo-ish vocal inflections, but the production doesn’t quite work for me, with its multi-tracked vocals.

Rick’s current single is the cheerful Tex-Mex ‘Better In Texas’, in which the protagonist abandons his Mexican sweetheart for a new love in Texas, deciding:

I know everything is better here in Texas

Now Mexico aint nothing but a memory
Pleasant as it might have been, it’s gone
I’d rather be here north of the border
The place where I belong

The exuberant mariachi horns work well on this track.

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