© 2013 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
Take one quavering tremolo guitar chord, a rattlesnake shaker, some Farfisa carny keyboards and a few picante horn punctuations, and you’re on the brink of “Back in Your Arms Again,” written by Raul Martinez, Gary Nicholson and Seth Walker, the opening track of In Time, the first new music in seven years from the celebrated progressive Country sensation known as The Mavericks.
More than 20 years after their first critically acclaimed major label release, From Hell to Paradise, the Miami-born, two-time CMA Vocal Group of the Year has as much brio and bravado as ever. “We went in saying, ‘We’re gonna make music like men,’ and that’s what we did,” said Raul Malo, the singer with the voice of plush leather and VSOP brandy. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen, but we came to play and everyone played beautifully.”
Though some members had not been in the same room for many years, drummer Paul Deakin, bassist/guitarist Robert Reynolds and longtime collaborators Jerry Dale McFadden on keyboards and Eddie Perez on guitar, found the spark instantly. Classic song forms, top-shelf musicianship and a desire to mine all the music they’ve been exposed to resulted in an album that moves from cocktail noir to neo-salsa, vintage jukebox Country and ballads that will take your breath away.
With the silky retro heartache of “In Another’s Arms” (written by Raul Malo), the percolating dance rhythms of “As Long as There’s Loving Tonight” (Malo, Alan Miller and Seth Walker) and the slow-building “Bolero”-inspired “Call Me When You Get to Heaven” (Malo), In Time is a bouquet of diverse styles. Recording in just five days, with co-producer Niko Bolas, known for his work with Neil Young, mixing as they went, the group exposed the drama embedded within these straightforward songs. The results draw listeners while steeping them in a kaleidoscope of influences.
“Certainly there’s a lot of Latin music in there,” allowed Malo, who wrote or co-wrote the 14 songs on In Time — 15 counting the Spanish version of “Come Unto Me,” “Ven Hacia Mi.” “There’s Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Sergio Mendes, The Gypsy Kings on ‘Call Me When You Get to Heaven,’ but there’s also Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and a dose of Buck Owens for good measure. It’s like always: a lot of everything, a nice link to where we were but also a bridge to the future.
“America really is a melting pot,” he continued. “I’d like to think this is a record for rednecks and Cubans, Mexicans and gringos, WASPs and anyone else who is glad to be alive — investing in the experience of being alive, you know?”
NPR music critic Ann Powers can see where The Mavericks fit into the broader story of Latin music and its integration into Country and other American genres. “If you look at the way history falls, there was an exposure to Latin heritage in Country Music in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” she said. “It was a time when artists were incorporating blues and dancing and rhythm & blues into their music. And it was about a more grown-up way of life.
“Now mainstream Country has 8 million songs about getting in your truck and partying,” she added. “But The Mavericks have a different kind of songcraft and emotional complexity in their music. There’s a vulnerability and a certain sophistication that comes out of real song structures.”
Scott Borchetta, President/CEO, Big Machine Label Group, was then the promo domo who led the charge for the genre-defying group at MCA, back when the quartet was selling out Wembley Stadium in the U.K. and selling multiple millions on the strength of “Dance the Night Away” (Malo), “Here Comes the Rain” (Malo and Kostas) and “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” (Malo and Al Anderson).
“Before they imploded, they had significant success,” Borchetta remembered. “It was a lot of things, but it all added up. I remember telling Paul and Robert in ’96, ‘You guys need to keep it together because you can be one of the biggest bands in the world.”
It was not to be then, but when Borchetta heard that the Mavs might do some tour dates to commemorate the 20th anniversary of From Hell to Paradise, he and Malo had a heart-to-heart. “Because they were going to tour, they were thinking of making a record,” he said. “And I was like, ‘I want you to make it here. I don’t care if the songs aren’t written, because I know the music will be there.”
Because of his history with the band, Borchetta knew the challenges going in. “We knew they would be left of center, because they always were,” he said. “It’s funny. A lot of stations jumped on ‘Born to Be Blue,’ and some told us, ‘This is even more outside than they were then.’ But WSIX (Nashville) jumped on it the moment we took it over. They were ready. So it comes down to being honest with your partners, which is how we view radio.
“The Mavericks aren’t like The Band Perry, Florida Georgia Line or Brantley Gilbert,” he acknowledged. “And that’s OK, because I know the people who love Adele and Mumford & Sons are going to love this record. That’s how it’s always been.”
NPR’s Powers agrees, noting the band’s crossover appeal is how they both sow and harvest their deep Country roots. “We forget the Americana genre is associated with Lucinda Williams,” she pointed out. “But it really started with The Mavericks — and that was the moment when music could represent so much more than simple labels. They brought a lot of classic Country to people who weren’t listening to that music.”
That seems to be true now too. Having spent the summer playing most of Country Music’s biggest festivals, including CMA Music Festival, the Mavs were stunned by the response they got wherever they played, since much of their audience in 2012 wasn’t listening to the radio when the band was having hits. “The fans have been unbelievable,” Malo said. “They were singing along with a lot of the songs. And it’s hard to know how they were doing that, since the Suited Up and Ready EP (released in 2012 prior to In Time) was download only. We’ve even seen bands on YouTube doing covers of the songs. That’s nuts!”
Retro. Modern. Progressive. Classic. Since the quartet was signed to Y&T Records, a tiny indie label tied to a record shop in Miami, they’ve been unswerving in making traditional Country, at times touched by the spirits of Patsy Cline or Elvis. “We’ve consistently struggled with the definition of the mainstream for Country,” said Reynolds. “There were moments when the music embraced us. But we’ve always been from the fringe, and we’ve always found those people who want more interesting music.”
“We’re not obvious,” observed Deakin. “We’re really a garage band from Miami, playing behind that voice. As square pegs, we represent America. Look at us: We’re the same kind of melting pot as this country!”
Perez, who has also done extensive work with honky-tonker Dwight Yoakam, concurs. “This band has always defied the odds and expectations. A Country band from Miami? With a Cuban singer? But it works, because people feel the passion.”
Reynolds sees their appeal differently: Rather than ethnicity or return address, The Mavericks are about universal truth. “The spirit of the night is a really, really good thing,” he said. “The pain, the thrills, the fun: If you’re never ‘flavor of the moment,’ you’re never running counter to the trends. Instead, find something that is universal, that’s forever. I think that’s what people respond to.”
The band isn’t afraid to take its time to build the audience for this music properly. “This is music built to last,” Malo insisted. “Everyone is in such a hurry now, but the journey, the destination, really is the point. But getting there the right way? That’s how you make it last.
“Look around,” he elaborated. “People are eating fast food in cars. My grandfather had a proper lunch with coffee every day, and he was a butcher by trade. He wanted to savor his life. That’s what this music is. It’s why we decided to do this again. It’s unorthodox and not obvious, but I think it will work. I can tell by the response from the people.”
Borchetta has engineered some big successes, including Brantley Gilbert and Justin Moore, who were slow to catch on. When asked about the importance of taking the long view of artists including The Mavericks, he smiled. “You can’t deny the locomotion of The Mavericks or the romance of the music,” he concluded. “When people hear, they respond. And we’re going to make sure they do.”
On the Web: TheMavericksBand.com
On Twitter: @MavericksMusic
Source: Country Music Association
Mavericks Photo by Justin Key / Provided by Country Music Association