Album Review – The Mavericks – “Moon & Stars”

photo: Alejandro Menéndez Vega


There’s not much better than a song from The Mavericks when they really get a hold of one, and do what The Mavericks do. You’re almost apt to forget or overlook them as a country fan, just because they don’t fit snugly into any country music cubbyhole. But when you’re listening to a ’90s country playlist and a song like “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” or “What A Crying Shame” comes on, it smacks you square in the face with the feels, and reminds you just how spectacular this band has been, and for decades.

Everyone loves to talk about the virtues of ’90s country these days and the era’s resurgence in influence. Let’s not forget that it was The Mavericks who were the CMA’s Vocal Group of the Year in 1995 and 1996. Decades later, songwriter and frontman Raul Malo remains one of the greatest singers of this generation and should be recognized as such, even if he’s stuck in a band that is inextricably stuck between country, Latin music, classic pop, big band, and everything in between.

But the latter stages of The Mavericks have been solidly and unmistakably spent innovating and exploring an American-based version of Latin roots music that has made them incomparable to anything else. Their album In Time that received a 10th Anniversary edition in 2023 remains a landmark masterwork of music that may not be topped in this lifetime or any other. All they can hope to do is live up to it and add to that album’s legacy in this era. That is what their latest album Moon & Stars accomplishes.

The album starts off highly collaborative. “Live Close By (Visit Often)” was originally written by Raul Malo and K.T. Oslin a quarter century ago, and became the title track on Oslin’s 2001 album that was generally panned. But as Malo proves with guest vocalist Nicole Atkins, this song and it’s cunning, arousing songwriting deserves second consideration.

If you’re looking to instill some cosmic, ethereal magic and mystery into a composition, there’s just about nobody better to recruit than Sierra Ferrell. Sierra’s patented ooh’s and her fearlessness to rear back and reach for the sky on her performances sends this song and your inspired heart into the cosmos.


“Look Around You” with Maggie Rose takes a bit of a turn away from what you expect from The Mavericks with its ’70s crybaby guitar effect and “Kumbuya” lyricism, but with the broad range of influences and adeptness with various soundscapes, it still fits within The Mavericks’ universe, however more on the periphery it might be.

The same is tough to say for “Here You Come Again,” which features Nashville saxophone great Max Abrams. The song comes across almost like a smooth jazz track, and underscores how sometimes The Mavericks can be accused of recycling melodies. The song itself is fine and you applaud the effort to showcase Mr. Abrams. But really it’s his repetitious and cliché part that hinders this track.

You have to give credit to the final song on the album called “Turn Yourself Around” for its uncanny resemblance to a psychedelic-era Beatles song. But it’s so Beatlesesque, it begs the question, why? The answer is likely because The Mavericks can and want to. But along with “Here You Come Again,” it does kind of rob Moon & Stars from the opportunity to present a more cohesive and immersive experience with these wild cards thrown in the mix.

But you can’t allow those tracks to make you overlook the many other excellent Mavericks-style songs Moon & Stars has to offer. Whenever they get into that hybrid ska beat, all is set right in the world. “Overnight Success” featuring fiddle and accordion reminds you a lot of those excellent older Mavericks country songs from the ’90s. It was co-written between Raul Malo, Rick Trevino, and others, and originally recorded by Trevino in 2001.

The dark, pursuant, and horn-driven “Without a Word” is another good example of The Mavericks doing what The Mavericks do, as is “A Guitar and a Bottle of Wine,” which underscores they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel in music, they’re just trying to set a groove and find a mood, and few if any do this better than The Mavericks.

It’s the in-between nature of Raul Malo and The Mavericks that make them so apt to be overlooked in country and beyond, even if their devoted fans could never forget them. But The Mavericks should be for all, because there is something for everyone on Moon & Stars, and in the entire Mavericks catalog.

8/10

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