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BBC – Music – Review of The Mavericks

Written by on October 19, 2020

In the mid-90s, The Mavericks bagged several country music awards and a Grammy, making a commercial virtue of the fact that they have always been a band that stands outside their own time.

The retro-styled band, formed in Miami in 1989 through a shared love of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, saw their sharp-suited blend of Nashville clichés, Mexican horns and Cuban rhythms winning them international popularity.

They became a one-stop party shop for those who found Calexico too convoluted and Chris Isaak too melancholy.

They split in 2003 after the disappointing performance of their self-titled sixth album, but now they’re back. The vintage genres and shiny modern noir motifs are present and correct, and Raul Malo’s voice is, as ever, the big gun in their arsenal.

If at times Malo (still) sounds like a very good Roy Orbison impersonator, even a facsimile of The Big O has more power to move than most bog-standard voices. However many spaghetti western riffs or mariachi flourishes are served up, Malo lifts any song up by its bootstraps and loads it with significance, merited or otherwise.

It’s difficult not to be impressed by his swagger.  

He’s most engaged and affecting on the big ballads, which tend to shake the Orbison songbook around a bit and call the results re-writes.

This is not necessarily a bad thing: Springsteen fans will certainly recognise – and emotionally respond to – the techniques deployed here. The my-baby-done-left-me heartstrings are duly tugged on numbers like Back in Your Arms Again and the self-explanatory Born to Be Blue.

The standout track is the bristling broken-hearted wallow, Call Me When You Get to Heaven, featuring the McCrary Sisters on backing vocals. It builds from big to bigger to massive: part gospel, part flamenco. Like a more slickly produced Tindersticks or Spiritualized, it’ll surprise many.

Elsewhere such epic leanings are sacrificed for good-time gaiety, as Dance in the Moonlight or All Over Again walk the overly well-trod path usually passed off as “down-home” or “good rockin’”.

But there’s enough ambition here to elevate The Mavericks’ comeback above the perfunctory.

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