Archive for March, 2015

Album Review: The Mavericks: “Mono”

March 30, 2015

The Mavericks

Album Cover_TheMavericks_Mono


* * * 1/2

Passion, 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.


Concert Review: Wynonna and Friends – ‘Stories and Song’

March 19, 2015

photoShe emerged from the wings, her fiery red mane draped past her shoulders. Dressed in basic black extenuated with a lightly patterned wispy overcoat, Wynonna Judd walked up to the microphone strumming her white acoustic guitar. Alone on stage she started in, belting the glorious beginning to “Mama He’s Crazy.” The band gathered around Judd, who’d taken to sitting on a stool, for the acoustic rendition of “Rock Bottom” that followed, jet setting the audience from 1984 to 1993 with seamless ease.

From the onset it was clear this would be a show unlike any other from Judd, devoid of production, and heavy on the power of that voice. Billed as ‘Wynonna and Friends: Stories and Song’ she traversed the country playing historic theaters armed with her husband Cactus Moser on percussion, a lead guitarist, an upright bass player, and her. Judd’s March 8th stop at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre brought the tour to a close.

For the next two and a half hours Judd navigated through her extensive catalog, opting for surprises over forgone conclusions. She turned soulful with her version of Eric Clapton’s Grammy-winning “Change The World” and contemplative with “Dream Chaser,” a spiritual highlight of The Judd’s catalog. Emotions ran high during “She Is His Only Need,” which had her thanking the audience for her first solo number one, and sass led the way on both “Give A Little Love” and “Turn It Loose,” which had Judd shredding on her harmonica.

“Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good ‘Ol Days)” was a revelation, a hit-upside-the-head reminder of our changing world that’s even more relevant today than it was thirty years ago. The night’s emotional and spiritual center, I was struck by the generational shift – the ‘good ‘ol days’ to kids today are the childhoods of our parents.

The stories aspect of the show was heavy on her relationship with her mother, a much-belabored subject that somehow didn’t feel clichéd. She talked about doing her mother’s hair before each show, seeking revenge by jacking it to Jesus, and reminisced about their appearances with Johnny Carson. Mom would sit next to Carson for the first segment before they’d switch seats during the commercial break.

Judd’s very open observations about the music industry were far more interesting. She lamented about the electronic recording techniques used today. She shed some light on The Judds’ first meeting with RCA Records, a showcase of family harmonies backed by their own guitars. She reminded us that Garth Brooks had opened for them back in the day, a young cowboy who had Naomi wondering if he was going to make it. She mentioned her daughter’s insistence that she hear this new Tim McGraw song, which prompted her to remember when McGraw, and his mullet, opened for her in the early 90s. Judd felt proud she’d ‘helped raise’ many of the stars who came up in her wake.

If you’ve ever followed Judd the person, you know how open she is. She traced her life back to childhood, talking about being the child of an unwed teenage mother saved only by the power of their voices in Appalachia. She then gifted us with a gorgeous rendition of a hymn she and her mother would sing together during that time. She also referenced playing for several presidents even though she didn’t agree politically with any of them.

Judd’s trademark openness became a hindrance, when nine-year-old twin girls made their way to the stage with flowers. The show stopped while selfies were snapped and interviews conducted. Turns out one of them had composed a song (“Possibilities”) Judd asked to have sent to her via Twitter. A second set of concertgoers, armed with a ‘Wynonna’ license plate, were next for pictures as was a man who jumped the stage to join in on the action. Never mind there was a woman begging for Judd’s attention, who finally got it, when she called her ‘Wy, Wy.’

When Judd returned to singing she belted “No One Else On Earth,” which required us in the audience to vigorously sing along. She turned giddy during the encore, when she introduced opening act Pete Scobell, a former navy seal, who devastated with a cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues” during his opening solo set. Judd gushed about her admiration for Scobell, whom she felt should be a huge star, before he snuck on stage to sing their Chris Kyle inspired duet “Hearts I Leave Behind.” It was a tender moment for Scobell, who wore his military heart on his sleeve, and told stories about deceased friends from the Naval Academy and the time he lost 22 comrades in one day.

What struck me about the show, in addition to Judd’s voice, was her band’s passion for playing. Usually when you to a show, thephoto 2 band members are hired to backup a singer and make them look good. Since Judd knew most of these members personally, they were so hungry to be there, they played long after the show had officially ended. There was a joy from Scobell, Moser, and the others that I loved, and rarely see.

What I truly enjoyed the most about the evening was the chance to be reacquainted with an artist I love and see what they’re up to now. I had downloaded “Hearts I Leave Behind” prior to the show, but appreciated it so much more with the context Judd provided not only into the song but also into him.

It truly was a wonderful evening and a very vivid reminder that Wynonna Judd sings circles around every other singer on the planet. She truly is one of the strongest vocalists I’ve ever heard, a fact that only seems to be enriched by age.