My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Mavericks

Album Review: The Mavericks — ‘Hey! Merry Christmas!’

What I love about The Mavericks is you always know what to expect from their music. You’re always going to get something radically different than you could even imagine, which has been even more true with their most recent albums. Hey! Merry Christmas! is no exception, and only proves, once again, that Raul Malo can sing anything and everything, regardless of style.

The album opens with a joyous ode to the season, “Christmas Time (Is Coming ‘Round Again),” with follows in the company of “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” and “Happy Holidays.” The listener is transported to another place and time, in classic Mavericks’ style.

“Santa Does” and “I Have Wanted You for Christmas” are both excellent in their own ways, whether celebrating the omnipresent one in the red suit or tributing a love that has endured through the generations. The album’s first ballad, the beautifully sparse “Christmas For Me (Is You)” is a revelation, with Malo committing to record a spellbinding R&B and jazz style vocal you have to hear to believe.

The R&B and jazz influence continues on “Santa Wants To Take You for a Ride,” a sensual and slinky double entendre that works, despite objectification. The mournful “Christmas Without You” is in more of a traditional Christmas style and finds Malo engulfed in Christmas cheer he can’t enjoy while also mending a broken heart. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a cover of the classic, which is well executed, but a bit too bombastic for my ears.

The title track, which appears next, swerves the album out of its detour into the emotional wrought and back into the light. It’s not my favorite song on the album, but it is very, very well done. “One More Christmas” is unremarkable at best, while the closing number “Happy Holiday,” which Andy Williams made famous, has been given the most eccentric treatment I’ve ever heard. The song, which typically exudes brightness and joy, has been stripped bare to reveal an almost suicidal underbelly I can only regard as interesting.

In my time as a Mavericks fan, I’ve come to enjoy their 1990s output more than their more recent stuff. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of Don Cook’s signature production style or I just like their country stuff better, but I’ve had a difficult time embracing their latest works. But I have to say I really enjoy Hey! Merry Christmas! There are some excellent original tracks on here that add a bit of punch to the holiday music market and make this album well worth checking out if you haven’t heard it yet.

Grade: B+

Advertisements

Album Review: Midland – ‘On The Rocks’

New country band Midland have received a certain amount of online criticism based on their perceived inauthenticity. I will say that the image as presented on the album cover comes across as trying too hard to be self-consciously retro, but no more so than Gram Parsons did in his day. That aside, is the music worthwhile? I wouldn’t call this a hardcore traditional record, but it has a lot of solid country input, and reminded me a little of the early work of the Mavericks.

All the songs were written by the band’s guitarist Jess Carson, mostly with other band members Cameron Duddy (bass guitar) and singer Mark Wystrach, and some outside input. Wystrach has a fine smooth tenor voice with a sophisticated crooning style which works best on ballads.

The lead single ‘Drinking’ Problem’, written by the band with their producers Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, was a considerable success for them, getting to #3 on the country airplay chart and sales being certified gold. It’s an excellent song in traditional vein about a man drinking to forget the woman who has broken his heart, with a memorable melody:

People say I got a drinkin’ problem
That ain’t no reason to stop
People sayin’ that I’ve hit rock bottom
Just ’cause I’m livin’ on the rocks
It’s a broken hearted thinkin’ problem
So pull the bottle off the wall
People say I got a drinkin’ problem
But I got no problem drinkin’ at all

They keep on talkin’
Drawin’ conclusions
They call it a problem
I call it a solution

There is even a steel guitar solo from Paul Franklin. It’s so good, in fact, I’m amazed it was so well received at country radio.

New single ‘Make A Little’, from the same writing team, raises the tempo and is decent but not that memorable, with a slightly annoying melodic twist on the hook. The best of the other songs written with McAnally and Osborne, ‘Nothin’ New Under The Neon’ is reminiscent of early George Strait, although Wystrach has an annoying habit of occasionally veering off into a falsetto which detracts from the song. ‘Burn Out’ is another good song about hanging out in a bar room because the protagonist’s love life hasn’t panned out, although this time he is smoking as well as drinking. ‘More Than A Fever’ is a pleasant sounding love song with the vocals failing to capture the passion evoked in the lyrics. ‘Electric Rodeo’ is not very interesting and slightly over produced.

Opener ‘Lonely For You Only’ is a another well sung crooned ballad, and a very good song, written by the band with Osborne and Rhett Akins. This partnership also produced the closing ‘Somewhere On The Wind’, a very nice valediction featuring Mickey Raphael’s harmonica. Akins and Rodney Clawson teamed up with the band to write ‘Altitude Adjustment’, quite a fun mid-tempo tune about heading off to Colorado. McAnally and Luke Laird helped to write the mid-tempo breakup song ‘Out Of Sight’ which is quite good with retro backing vocals.

Jonathan Singleton wrote two songs with the boys. ‘At Least you Cried’ is a bit boring and the brassy production flattens out Wystrach’s voice. ‘This Old Heart’ (also cowritten with David Lee Murphy) is okay but undistinguished. Finally, the band’s Jess Carson wrote one song on his own. ‘Check Cashin’ Country’ is a likeable mid-tempo number about life as a struggling country band.

Overall, this is a pretty good record. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s much better than most current major label releases. I would definitely recommend downloading ‘Drinking Problem’ and ‘Altitude Adjustment’ with a number of the other tracks worth checking out.

Grade: B

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Brand New Day’

Lawrence Welk, Flaco Jimenez, Jimmy Sturr, Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Louis Prima, Charles Magnante, Jacques Brel, Earl Scruggs, Tito Puente, Perez Prado and countless others inhabit the music on this album. None of them actually appear on this album, but all of them are among the influences apparent in the newest Mavericks album Brand New Day, the group’s first album to be released on their own Mono Mundo label.

[Note: Unfortunately the digital download of the album did not come with songwriter or musician credits, although I think Max Abrams handles the saxophone throughout the album and Michael Guerra is on the accordion. Malo usually writes most of his own material, so I would assume that he wrote most of this album.]

The album opens with the upbeat “Rolling Along”. Like polka band leader Jimmy Sturr, Mavericks lead singer and guiding force Raul Malo discovered long ago that Polka, Tejano, Cajun and Western Swing are essentially the same music, just played on different instruments. This basically falls within that group of genres with banjo, accordion, fiddle and trumpets all featured within the mix.

Life isn’t easy, it’s uphill, believe me
Whether you’re weak or you’re strong
Sometimes you feel like you’re back on your heels
And everything’s going all wrong

Through the confusion and all disillusion
Somehow life still goes on
I found a cure I know works for sure
And we just keep rolling along

So bring on the trouble and burst every bubble
I promise it won’t change a thing
I always find that my peace of mind
Still flies like a bird on the wing
What’s going to happen is still going to happen
The one thing that you can count on
Don’t fix what ain’t broken while Willie’s still smoking
We’ll just keep rolling along

Next up is the title track “Brand New Day” written by Raul Malo and Allen Miller, a big rock ballad love song of the kind that greats Gene Pitney might have recorded in the 1960s or Roy Orbison in the 1980s. It is derivative but gives Malo a chance to show that he is one of the few singers who should be allowed anywhere near this material.

Baby tomorrow’s a brand new day
We’re gonna love all our troubles away
I don’t wanna live like a ghost from the past
You’re not the first but you will be my last

There’ll come a time when all of your dreams
Will all disappear like a thief in the night
(A thief in the night)
It’s never too dark to keep out the light
There’s never a wrong that you couldn’t make right
(You couldn’t make right)

Baby tomorrow’s a brand new day
We’re gonna love all our troubles away

“Easy As It Seems” has a bossa nova arrangement with a lyric that one of Motown’s fine staff writers could have written:

Things are getting crazy, I beg to understand
The more I think I know, the more I know I can’t
So tell me what the point is with everything you say
Nowhere near the truth almighty a bunch of nothing said

Do you want to get mean?
Do you want to get cruel?
Do you think it’s wise
To play the fool?

I can mentally hear either Louis Prima or Dean Martin singing “I Think of You”, the arrangement and saxophones saying Prima but the actual lyric screaming Dino. Since I am a huge fan of both Louis Prima and Dean Martin, I would probably single this song out as my favorite track on the album.

“Goodnight Waltz” evokes the images of Parisian Café Society. Sung softly and taken at a slow waltz tempo, the lyric can be taken several ways, depending upon the frame of mind of the listener.

Here I stand before your eyes
I’m just a man who’s realized
Another dream has come to light
So I’ll say goodnight

I’ll say goodnight to you
I’ll say goodnight to you
So farewell but not goodbye
So I’ll say goodnight

Time has come and gone too soon
Tomorrow brings another tune
I’ll sing them all ’til the day I die
So I’ll say goodnight

“Damned (If You Do)” reminds me of a lot of other songs I’ve heard over the years, both lyrically and melodically (the first few bars had me wondering if I was about to hear the theme from the Munsters television show and there seem to be hints of that theme at several points in the song):

And sure as you are
Of lessons you’ve learned
Decisions you’ve made
Will all be overturned
But life all alone
Is a life unfulfilled
You may not miss the hurt
But you sure do miss the thrills

You’re damned if you do
And damned if you don’t
Damned if you will
And damned if you won’t

Next up is “I Will Be Yours”, a romantic ballad that a younger Engelbert Humperdinck would have recorded as an album track in the late 1960. I can even imagine Elvis Presley or Marty Robbins tackling this song.

If you should want to, or ever need to
Find yourself someone who would be true
I know the right one, to be that someone
And he has fallen in love with you

If you surrender to love so tender
Until forever I will be yours
Don’t ever leave me, darling believe me
Until forever I will be yours

“Ride With Me” has an early rock ‘n roll feel to it (with brass and accordion added), although the song also reminds me of Bobby Troup’s classic song “Route 66”. Basically a travelogue, it is a good song anyway. If you listen closely you will hear some Bob Wills style asides from Malo.

When I’m in New York City, I never sleep a wink
When I’m in New York City, I never get to sleep a wink
But when I cross that river all I want to do is drink

Well I have been to Chicago, they said it was the promised land
You know I’ve been to Chicago, they said it was the promised land
When I arrived as a child they promised that I’d leave a man

Phoenix, Arizona; Memphis, Tennessee
Southern California, Washington DC
I gotta go… a whole world to see
So pack your bags up baby
Come along and ride with me

Of all the songs on this album “I Wish You Well” is the one that I would describe as being like a prototypical Roy Orbison song. Malo does a fabulous job singing it and conveying the regret and angst of the lyric.

This is where the road divides
This is where we have to say goodbye
Say goodbye

After all that we’ve been through
How I wish for more than this to say to you
This to say to you

Here’s to all the good times
That we’ve ever known
To the memories
Yours and mine alone

Now you lie before me
Like a star that fell
Oh I wish you well
Oh I wish you well

The album closes with “For The Ages”, a celebratory love song, with an arrangement that, with the exception of the choral coda, could be called country, the only song on the album I would so describe, although like every other song on the album, accordion is in evidence.

For the ages… that’s what our love will be
For the ages… through all of history
For the ages… who could ask for more
For the ages… that’s what our love is for

I’ve never known a love to make me feel like this
I’ve never tasted wine sweeter than your kiss
I’ve never seen a star shining in the sky
Nearly half as bright as the twinkle in your eye

Describing the music of The Mavericks has always been difficult somewhat akin to trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, only in their case the peg had a trapezoid shape. This album is no exception. It has been categorized as rock, which it is not, and I have seen it called country which it most certainly isn’t.

There is nothing new or revolutionary about any of the music on this album, and many of the songs on the album will remind long-time fans of songs on other Mavericks albums. Even so, this is one of the better albums that will be released this year, with its wide array of songs and musical styles. Raul Malo is in excellent voice throughout. My only criticism is that the album could be a little longer (it runs about 38 minutes).

Graded strictly in terms of the excellence of execution, this album is an A+. Graded on other criteria you might downgrade it to a B+ (shame on you if you do, though)

Christmas Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘Silent Night’

Album Review – Shelby Lynne – ‘I Can’t Imagine’

1035x1035-ShelbyLynne_FinalCover_RGBFor the first time in twenty years Shelby Lynne has recorded an album outside of Southern California, where she first found her artistic voice on I Am Shelby Lynne. The sessions for I Can’t Imagine, her fifth self-produced set, took place at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana.

The album continues Lynne’s penchant for jazzy acoustic ballads, a signature of her most recent work. The title track, a co-write with Pete Donnelly, was issued as the lead single. An excellent mid-tempo ballad, the track centers on a breakup with a woman friend sympathizing with the man, unable to comprehend what he must be feeling.

Lynne co-wrote half the album, while she authored the other half solo. On the self-penned tracks, Lynne finds herself exploring themes of exploration and self-examination. She desires to find herself within the woman she’s become on “Back Porch, Front Door” while she longs for her place in this world on “Son of a Gun,” which straightforwardly references her mother’s death. “Following You” centers on a flashback to her childhood, where she’s more observant of her father’s habits then she chooses to let on.

She finally breaks on “Paper Van Gogh,” the soaring centerpiece that opens the album with a defiant roar. Lynne leads with the record’s greatest statement, that little in her life is organic and real, a mantra that threads the personal confessions that follow. Rock thumper “Down Here” is the columniation of her five-track odyssey, where she seeks comfort in her relationship to God, the only person who knows who she feels truly knows her.

These tracks are wonderful explorations of Lynne’s broken soul, segmented into different fractions of her shattered spirit. While they transmit a decided lyrical heaviness, she keeps them approachable by giving each moment enough tempo to engage the audience. We hear her pain because prodding arrangements don’t bog us down.

Lynne finds some positivity in “Love Is Strong,” a co-write with Canadian Singer-Songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Even though her vocal may suggest otherwise, she feels newly born; an odd one-off on an album filled with despair. Her other co-write with Sexsmith, “Be In The Now” is the album’s lone anthem, a battle cry to enjoy the present for it isn’t as bad as the darkness that surrounds it.

“Sold The Devil (Sunshine)” is the lone track Lynne co-wrote with Mavericks guitarist Ben Peeler. The song rests on the brilliant metaphor “we sold the devil a dash of sunshine,” one of the greatest ways of describing desperation I’ve ever heard.

“Better,” the other track co-written with Donnelly, is an ambiguous ballad with a beautifully poetic lyric. The protagonist is stronger now that she’s without her man, better off now that he’s long gone.

I Can’t Imagine is as emotional an album as you’re going to find this year, a project that finds Lynne in a strong a voice as she’s ever been. It’s an incredible glimpse into her psyche as she battles the demons that have followed her for most of her life. It’s a journey well worth taking with an artist who gets better and better with each passing album.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘Born To Be Blue’

Newly reunited in 2012:

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 – ‘In Time’

in timeAfter almost a decade ploughing their individual furrows, the Mavericks reunited in 2012 and released a much-anticipated comeback early in 2013 on Valory Records. Arrangements are generally heavy on the horns, and the songs, all written or co-written by Raul, don’t quite stand up with the best of their earlier material, but it is a solid record filled with energised performances by a band clearly happy to be back together.

The lead single ‘Born To Be Blue’ is quite good, but didn’t crack the top 40 on the country airplay chart. The only other single, ‘Back In Your Arms Again’, a co-write with Gary Nicholson and Seth Walker, has a strong Latin influence, and didn’t chart at all.

‘Lies’ is an up-tempo country rocker, written with Al Anderson and Bob DipIero. It’s an excellent song lyrically, but lacks melody and the arrangement or mix is too loud and relentless. ‘Come Unto Me’, sung partly in Spanish, with a full-on Spanish version tacked on to the end of the record, incorporates Latin and rock aspects, and is pretty good. ‘As Long As There’s Loving Tonight’ and ‘Dance In The Moonlight’ are examples of the band’s feelgood party numbers – enjoyable and no doubt even more so live.

By far my favourite track, ‘In Another’s Arms’ is a tender ballad showcasing Raul’s voice at his soaring best and is tastefully produced. The languid ‘Forgive Me’ is another beautifully sung ballad.

‘Amsterdam Moon’ and ‘That’s Not My Name’ have a retro pop feel which is not my cup of tea, but well done. I enjoyed ‘Fall Apart’, which has a bouncy polka-style accordion-led accompaniment backing an unrepentant lyric about risking hurt for the sake of love. ’All Over Again’ has a similar joie de vivre, and a lyric about defying a helpless love for the woman who insists on breaking his heart repeatedly.

At over eight minutes, ‘Call Me When You Get To Heaven’ is far too long while not really getting anywhere interesting, and feels self-indulgent to me.

This isn’t a particularly country album, but is it is an enjoyable one which fans of the band should catch up on if they missed it.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘Lucky One’

51unuMG0UHLLike much of Raul Malo’s solo efforts — as well as his later work with The Mavericks — 2009’s Lucky One is not a country album, but that’s not to say that there isn’t much to recommend it. In fact, I would much rather listen to it over pretty much anything that gets airplay on today’s country radio. If pressed to categorize the album under a neat label, I would probably say that it is the type of music that used to be marketed to adults before pop music became overly bland and dependent on electronic sounds and studio technology, the sort of music that could regularly be heard on Top 40 radio 30 or 40 years ago, but is largely without a commercial outlet today.

Malo co-produced the album with Steve Berlin and had a hand in writing all of its 12 tracks. The album produced two non-charting singles. The first was the somewhat bland title track, which opens the set. I was a bit apprehensive upon hearing it the first time, thinking that it was the first of a dozen tedious songs to get through, but things took pleasant change of direction beginning with the second track, “Moonlight Kiss”, which was the album’s second single. Malo’s voice is often compared to Roy Orbison, but his performance on this track is reminiscent of Elvis Presley. The background vocals are a little kitschy but overall the song is very catchy and enjoyable.

Malo channels Dean Martin on the easy-going and relaxing “You Always Win”. But on the majority of tracks he is back to his trademark Orbison-esque sound. The standout track is the ballad “Crying For You”, on which he delivers a stunning vocal performance. The rockabilly-flavored “Lonely Hearts” is about the closest Malo comes to country music on this album.

I can only take adult contemporary music in limited doses; the lack of country instrumentation usually results in a sound that is too bland for my liking. Malo avoids falling into that trap with Lucky One. The songs are all well sung and the album is tastefully produced, and the restrained use of horns compensates for the lack of fiddle and steel. Malo’s tenor, however is the glue that holds the album together. He and Berlin wisely let his voice shine, never letting the production overwhelm it.

Lucky One is one of the best non-country albums I have ever listened to. It’s extremely rare that a non-country album gets a thumbs up from me, but this one does. It may not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly deserves a listen.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks and Trisha Yearwood – ‘Something Stupid’

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘Dance The Night Away’

This was an international hit for the band:

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down’

Album Review: Raul Malo, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes and Dave Pomeroy – ‘The Nashville Acoustic Sessions’

nashville acoustic sessionsOne of Raul Malo lesser known recordings, yet perhaps my personal favourite, is the acoustic album he released in collaboration with three virtuoso musicians: Pat Flynn of New Grass Revival (on acoustic guitar and mandolin), dobro genius Rob Ickes and bassist Dave Pomeroy. Malo takes care of all the lead vocals, and despite the democratic equal billing, to all intents and purposes this works as a solo Raul Malo album – and the best he has made. It was released in 2004, just after the breakup of the Mavericks.

The record opens with a beautiful version of ‘Blue Bayou’, with Raul Malo’s vocal measured yet soaring to challenge the Orbison original.

Raul’s vocal on the Louvin Brothers’ ‘When I Stop Dreaming’ is exquisite, and for once one doesn’t miss the harmonies. He is joined by the harmonies of Flynn and Ickes in a committed take on the Louvins’ Cold War-inspired gospel song ‘The Great Atomic Power’.

An ethereally mournful wail is used for a haunting version of Hank Williams’s ‘Weary Blues From Waiting’. Jimmie Rodgers ‘Waiting For A Train’ is, a little disappointingly, relegated to an instrumental – perhaps to make the point that it isn’t technically a Malo album, but I would have liked to hear him sing this, although it goes without saying that it is beautifully played.

‘Hot Burrito #1’ (the Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers’ song in which the protagonist bemoans “I’m your toy”) has another stellar vocal and stripped down arrangement.

Gordon Lightfoot’s gentle folk-country ‘Early Morning Rain’ is delivered smoothly, while Van Morrison’s ‘Bright Side Of The Road’ is perky. Bob Dylan’s ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ is strongly performed, with additional harmonies from R&B singer Siedah Garrett, but is one of the less memorable tracks.

Pop/Great American Songbook standards ‘Moon River’ and ‘I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons)’ are beautifully sung, particularly the former.

This may not appeal to those Mavericks fans most drawn to the Latin party side of the band – but Raul Malo’s magnificent voice is showcased at its very best. I rather wish he had continued in this vein, but he had more eclectic paths in mind.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘Here Comes The Rain’

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

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘All That Heaven Will Allow’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘ Trampoline’

61AdyrEL0RL._SS280The Mavericks’ fifth studio album, Trampoline was their most successful album globally, not reaching only #9 on the US country chart, but unlike any of their other albums, before or after, also having significant success  in other countries. The album reached #3 on the Canadian country charts, #43 on the Canadian pop charts, #10 on the British and New Zealand pop charts and charting on the album charts of Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

This was fueled by the success of “Dance The Night Away”, which while not a big hit on the US or Canadian country charts, reached #4 on the British pop chart, #25 in the Netherlands. Another British single from the album, “I’ve Got This Feeling” also cracked the top thirty.

As time went on, The Mavericks’ albums focused less on the band as a whole, and more on lead singer Raul Malo. I suppose this was inevitable, given the unique vocal talents of Malo, and this album completed that progression. Less country than its predecessors, Trampoline seamlessly blends together all of Malo’s musical influences. Of the albums thirteen songs, Malo either wrote or co-wrote twelve, the only exception being “I Hope You Want Me Too” from the pens of “Big” Kenny Alphin and Jaime Hanna.

Some of the songs feature a lot of musicians. In addition to the band members, twenty-one other musicians plus the Nashville String Machine play on the album. This includes a full complement of horns and reeds., as well as banjo and steel guitar.

The album opens up with the Latin-flavored “Dance The Night Away”, which while not an across the board hit on the US country charts (#63 US country  / #72 Canada country) received huge radio airplay in Florida (and I suspect other markets with large Latino populations).  The song is about what the singer is doing since his girl left him.

“Tell Me Why” , co-written with Al Anderson, has a strong 70s soul/ R&B ballad flavor to it  This is followed by the Latin-tinged “I Should Know” which despite the horns and steel guitars sounds like something from one of the British invasion bands of the 1960s

Every night alone
Every night I spent without you
Every little thing about you
Runs right through my mind
I wonder where you are
And do you ever think about me
And if you get the feeling that
There’s something missing too
But I should know
You’ll never come back to me
Even though I will always love you
I should know

“Someone Should Tell Her”, also co-written with Al Anderson, didn’t chart on the US and I am not sure that it was released as a single here. It was a single in the United Kingdom, reaching #45 and is probably my favorite song on the album.

Someone should tell her
How much I love her
Before she goes and
Runs away with him
If you should see her
Tell her I need her
Maybe then
She’ll come back to me
Ever since I broke her heart
She won’t talk to me
All I need is a one last chance
To make up and say I’m sorry

“To Be With You” is a nice country love ballad, devoid of Latin flavoring that would likely have been a hit had it been issued during the period from 1965- 1985. The Nashville String Machine is prominently featured on this track.

The next track is a bluesy curve ball, the languid “Fool #1” , which sounds like something you might hear on a modern (but not too modern) jazz album or perhaps in some cocktail lounge somewhere, except Malo is a better singer than anyone you would likely hear in such a setting. The Nashville String Machine is tastefully employed in service of this song.

“I Don’t Even Know Her Name” also sounds like British Invasion pop, which may explain why it was issued as a single in the UK , reaching #27. On this song, Malo dials down his vocals a bit to sound more like a typical British invasion vocalist.

All in all this is a very interesting album flitting from genre to genre and reflecting a wide array of influences. I’ve pretty much covered the highlights of the album, but the entire album is worth hearing.  “Melbourne Mambo” probably comes closest to the sound of Malo’s Cuban heritage. Really , the only misstep is “Dolores”, which has a 1890s sound (piano and clarinet are the dominant instruments) with Malo singing into a megaphone – shades of “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band of the 1960s, or earlier still, Rudy Vallee in the late 1920s/early 1930s. The track is not terrible but it is a waste of Malo’s unique voice.

The two closing tracks “Save A Prayer” which has that tent-revival sound and feel to it, and “Dream River” which has the feel of a Pat Boone or Elvis Presley ballad from the 1950s.

I really like this album and would give it an A+ but as what ?

A country album ??

A pop album ??

An easy listening/adult contemporary album ??

Classifications can be so meaningless. Just sit back and enjoy the album !

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Music For All Occasions’

MusicforAllOccasionsIn the wake of their landmark What A Crying Shame, the Academy of Country Music named The Mavericks Top New Vocal Group for 1994, and Top Vocal Group in 1994 and 1995. The Country Music Association followed suit, with Vocal Group honors in 1995 and 1996.

Amidst the praise from the industry, they released Music For All Occasions, in the fall of 1995. Co-produced by Don Cook and Ralo Malo, the LP peaked at #9 and contains two of the most beloved singles they’ve ever released.

The Malo and Kostas penned “Here Comes The Rain” peaked at #22. The mid-tempo ballad became an instant classic despite it’s lack of airplay, and won the band their lone Grammy – Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal – in 1996.

The catchy as hell second single “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” was their most unconventional single to date at the time, with an unapologetic Tex-Mex vibe courtesy of featured accordionist Flaco Jiménez. The bright sing-along nature of the track, combined with Malo’s distinctive twangy vocal, helped the song soar to #13.

With The Mavericks’ biggest radio hit yet under their belt, MCA chose the astonishing string and steel soaked ballad “Missing You” as the final single. Despite another brilliant vocal from Malo, the track criminally stalled at #54.

Like “Missing You,” the majority of Music For All Occasions is a melting pot of 60s pop mixed with elements of the Nashville Sound and neo-traditional country. Album opener “Foolish Heart” is a prime example as are “One Step Away,” “My Secret Flame,” “Loving You” and “I’m Not Gonna Cry for you.” They also go honky-tonk with “The Writing On The Wall” and “If You Only Knew,” gifting listeners with rip-roaring pedal steel and a swinging attitude.

To make one more left-of-center statement, The Mavericks close the record with a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Something Stupid.” A duet between Malo and Trisha Yearwood, the track features a Spanish-influenced lead guitar mixed with flourishes of harmonica. Like everything Yearwood graces, the results are outstanding.

Music For All Occasions is a revelation that moves the genre forward by bucking all popular trends, nodding to the past, and flawlessly executing on all fronts. The album brilliantly captures a group at the height of their prowess, creating magic at every turn. It pains me to think it sold roughly half of What A Crying Shame because this is music that desperately needs to be heard.

I urge everyone to seek out a copy. Music For All Occasions redefines the idea of essential listening and sounds just as fresh and exciting today as it did twenty years ago.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: The Mavericks – ‘I Should Have Been True’

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘What A Crying Shame’

51C7p4ENGmL._SS2801994’s What A Crying Shame was The Mavericks’ third album overall, their second for a major label and the first to have any significant commercial impact. It paired them for the first time with Don Cook who would produce (or co-produce with Raul Malo) all of the group’s albums for MCA from this point forward.

The Mavericks made their first chart appearance in 1992 with a remake of Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking'”, which peaked at #74. “What A Crying Shame” did significantly better, reaching #25. There were four additional singles released from the album. two of them – “O What A Thrill” and “There Goes My Heart”, reached the Top 20. “I Should Have Been True” reached #30 and the final single “All That Heaven Will Allow” topped out at #49.

As noted in some other discussions, The Mavericks were largely considered to be a “fringe” act; however, What A Crying Shame is bonafide country with plenty of fiddle and pedal steel — albeit with glossy production and highly polished vocals from Raul Malo that are often reminiscent of Roy Orbison. It is solidly within what was considered mainstream country at the time, which makes radio’s tepid response a bit puzzling. I can only speculate that it is because there was a lot of formidable competition in the 90s. Perhaps in another era The Mavericks would have made more of an impact.

What A Crying Shame may not have received a lot of support from radio, but it did connect with fans, and generated platinum-level sales. It’s a shame that it didn’t get more airplay because it is an excellent album from start to finish. Most of the songs have a 60s feel to them. Raul Malo had a hand in writing seven of the album’s eleven tracks, teaming up on several of them — including the title track and my favorite “There Goes My Heart”, with Kostas, who was one of the hottest songwriters in Nashville at the time.

In addition to Raul Malo and Kostas, What A Crying Shame boasts some impressive songwriting credits, including Jesse Winchester who wrote “O What A Thrill”, Bruce Springsteen who wrote “All That Heaven Will Allow” and the great Harlan Howard who co-wrote “Ain’t Found Nobody” with Kostas.

Even though it sold more than a million copies in the US, the album’s limited radio airplay means that few outside of the million people that bought it have heard most of these songs, and younger fans are unlikely to have heard them at all. I strongly recommend that anyone who hasn’t heard the album pick up a copy; this is exactly the sort of country music that Nashville should be making today.

Grade: A