Release Date: Feb 19, 2013
I’ve previously mentioned my jr. high foray into country music. Those were the days when the country airwaves were ruled by the likes of Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Reba – this is “Don’t Take the Girl”-era Tim McGraw. From that time, there are 3 bands that really stand out to me: the ironically big hair of Little Texas, the sleeveless pearl snaps of Blackhawk, and the incredible music of Raul Malo and The Mavericks.
I feel it necessary to call out lead singer Raul Malo because his voice makes the band. This is extremely apparent on their earliest records that seem to be built around his vocals. As they went on, they came together and established a collective sound: retro Cali-country, with a hint of mariachi, and a voice stolen from Roy Orbison – not bad for a country band from Florida.
They put out a half-dozen albums throughout the 90’s and very early ’00s. They never broke huge, but had some songs you might remember, “Oh What a Thrill”, “There Goes My Heart”, “All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down”. In 2003 they called it quits and mostly went quietly into that dark night with the exception of Malo who released his own half-dozen records (mostly Roy Orbison-crooner-style fare).
Before I get into this record, I have to voice one complaint. Last year, the band released a 5 song EP, Suited Up and Ready. All 5 of those songs appear on In Time. I’m all about whetting the appetite by releasing an EP 3-6 months prior to a full-length. I’m even ok with all of the songs being re-used, so long as the EP is offering up some sort of unique content, such as acoustic versions of those songs and maybe a track or two that didn’t make the record. Frightened Rabbit offered one album track and four non-album tracks on their state hospital EP. Hanson offered acoustic versions of 4 album tracks and one full version of a non-album track on their These Walls EP. Someone made a bad call with this one, expecting people to pay for the same songs twice – especially when those are the five best tracks on the album.
I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit disappointed with this record. After such a long hiatus, I was hoping for at least one or two really killer tracks that could live on for years and years, and I just don’t think I found any. The band has really moved into a much more mariachi-influenced sound. Honestly, the sound is multi-generational and multi-ethnic. What does that sound like? Well, the organ, trumpets, and accordion are ever-present. The super-clean, whammy-laden electric guitars are abundant. And the entire record is marked by syncopated rhythms throughout. And that’s all good stuff, but it just means that there’s really no place for this record in the mainstream. It’s a record for the band and it’s truest fans.
The strongest stand-alone track is “Born to be Blue.” (If I can say one thing, the theme of the record is really consistent throughout: failed love and heartbreak.) “Come Unto Me” sounds like it would fit perfectly into a Quentin Tarrantino western. “That’s Not My Name” honestly sounds like it was recorded in the 50’s. The bulk of the album is up-tempo, but there are a few slowed down tracks including “In Another’s Arms” that showcase the smoothness of Raul Malo’s voice. The band is comprised of great musicians who play their roles well in all contexts, but shine brightest on the most expansive tracks such as “All Over Again.”
In short, you can roll the dice on each track and you’ll either come up with modern Tejano rockers or Richie Valens flavored ballads. I just wish we’d come away with something on the level of “Oh What a Thrill”.
As an aside, I was really excited to see the band advertised both on the end cap at Target for the last month and in the Target circular this past Sunday. I really appreciate Target for embracing, supporting, and raising awareness for great music.