Album Review – The Mavericks “En Español”

photo: David McClister

Sure, maybe you have some sort of fundamental grasp on the idea that south of the U.S. border there is a vast world of entertainment options emanating from the warmer latitudes, whether from our neighbors in Mexico, or the rich and varied cultures of the Caribbean nations. But where to start, and how to tackle that monster is too intimidating of a task.

Maybe you know a little Spanish from paying just enough attention in high school for your language credit, or perhaps you’re even fluent. Or maybe as far as you ever got was the “Donde esta el bano?” a co-worker taught you before going on that all-inclusive resort package to Cancun last winter. But what you do know is compared to the milquetoast world of American music, Latin music contains a spice and entertainment value that is worthy of exploring. You just need a tour guide, and to acquire the taste.

The Mavericks are here to help, as they have been for over 30 years. As cultural ambassadors for a number of Latin-influenced musical art forms, they have been country music’s somewhat unusual, but warmly welcomed Latin cousins that back in the mid 90’s were winning CMA and ACM Awards as a top vocal group. Based in south Florida as opposed to Texas where many of the Tejano and Conjunto styles commonly rub elbows with country, The Mavericks influence is more Cuban in nature.

With stellar frontman Raul Malo, The Mavericks have dabbled in Spanish language music before. Their big comeback record in 2013 In Time included a Spanish version of the album’s signature track, “Come Unto Me.” But En Español is the first time the outfit delves into Spanish language material exclusively, both in the form of some new, original compositions, as well as some tasteful, and deftly-selected covers.

30 years into you career, the challenge for any artist or band is to keep things interesting not just for the audience, but for yourself. Whether it’s the band’s last album consisting entirely of cover songs, or now this Spanish-only effort, The Mavericks are recording what they are passionate about, and it comes through in spirited performances.

The Mavericks really sell you on the idea of this Spanish language stuff on the opening song, “La Sitiera”—a slowly developing 6-minute composition that starts off with the biting and bassey tones of Eddie Perez on electric guitar, builds in via a muffled trumpet melody, and by the end, captures the unmitigated magic of Raul Malo’s vocal powers in a rousing and moving rendition of this Rafael López González-penned song.

The second track on the album called “Recuerdos” (a.k.a “Memories”) is a Raul Malo co-write that really captures the fundamental magic of The Mavericks of impassioned performances backed by punchy and catchy moments, only this time in a native tongue. Don’t be too intimidated diving into a record like this. As cliche as it may sound, music truly is a universal language. The Mavericks do offer English translations in the physical renderings for assistance if necessary. But just like country, these are songs of love and heartbreak, or dreams and realization, of family and friends, and you feel them, even if you don’t fully comprehend.

Whenever you talk about the Mavericks, you also must pay special homage to the power of lead singer Raul Malo. One of the premier singers of our generation that is often and unfortunately overlooked, you can tell this was a passion project for him. And just as important as it is for introducing English-speaking markets to the beauty of the Spanish language, hopefully it also ingratiates Spanish listeners to Malo and The Mavericks who Latin markets may only know as outliers.

But if we’re being honest, some of En Español comes across as, well, a little sappy and saccharine, no matter what language the material is delivered in. It’s still a really well-crafted record. You just were perhaps hoping for a bit more of a cool factor throughout to really help sell the English-speaking audience on the idea of investing their time in a Spanish-only record, and Spanish-only music. Perhaps that’s an unfair expectation to lump on the effort. But it’s also something The Mavericks have done throughout their careers, only pulling it off partially here by leaning a bit too much on balladry. You end up craving a bit more from the guitar of Eddie Perez.

En Español finishes off really strong though. The chorus of “Cuando me Enamoro” (or “When I Fall in Love”) is just too succulent to pass up, and if you listen deep into the fade out at the end, you’ll hear Malo singing the chorus in English as well. And the final song, “Me Voy a Pinar del Rio” (“I’m Going to Pinar del Rio”) is more of the traditional-style song that you might have expected more of on this record.

Illustrating the beauty of the Spanish language while extending their ambassadorship for Latin influences in American music, The Mavericks and Raul Malo make an inspired record that some may find intimidating to delve into, but many will find rewarding if they do.

1 1/2 Pistolas Arriba (7.5/10)

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