The Mavericks
The Mavericks


our mother is right, and Nick Southall is wrong. “Dance The Night Away” is the best single of the 90s, a gorgeous slice of Tex-Mex (well, Tex-Cuban to be precise) party music, with horns that stab you like you were Dizzee Rascal, and frontman Raul Malo’s vocals smothering the whole track with a third-shot-of-Wild Turkey glint in his eye.

Dateline: 2003. Country music has split into two equally contemptible camps (no, neither are alt-country, that’s what happens when indie musicians get dropped by their label and find a steel guitar in a charity shop. It’s shit). On one hand, the Dixie Chicks front up the bland, “homogenised for mainstream consumption” camp. And on the other hand, Mr Toby Keith heads up the troops of inane, knuckleheaded, bad self-parody. OMGWTFLOL IT’S JUST LIKE RAP MUSIC LOL2003. The Mavericks’ greatness, however, has always come in never setting foot in either camp. When they were just forming, they solely performed in rock clubs rather than the country clubs they were expected to, and in their (yes, this unfortunately is a big deal in country music) non-white frontman they had a wealth of other influences to draw on: calypso, carnival, jazz, salsa… fuck, music that actually had rhythm.

So, yes, they are country, but the world of country they belong to is the country of about 1957, when it was still a close brother to rock and roll. Think Roy Orbison, think Elvis singing “Wooden Heart”. Don’t think K.D. Lang: those comparisons are hideously lazy, and yet every damn music critic (except me) makes them. If you must make a direct comparison, try Dean Martin’s country albums. Indeed, “I’m Wondering” off here, and many others, could have easily found a place on the boy Crocetti’s 1963 masterpiece Dean “Tex” Martin Rides Again.

It is great to have these guys back, though, after a five year wait from their last album. In the meantime, “Dance The Night Away” has hawked more products than an auctioneer, and Raul Malo’s recorded both a solo album, and one with the dude that is Uncle Junior on the Sopranos! You’re regretting that cynicism you had at the start of the review now, huh? The solo album seems to have bled some of Malo’s TexCub stylings out of him, however, as there’s an argument to be made for this being the least Latino album that Mavericks have put out to date. Even so, the balance is there, and this baby swings like Sampras in places, with an energy that many of their peers, not just in country music, would be hard pushed to match. “Shine A Light” is more Cuban than baseball, a genuine toe-tapper of a tune, whilst “San Jose”… well, it’s called “San Jose”. What else do you want?

It is flawed, unfortunately, to deliver something a little too slick. Something a little too suited to bad restaurants and airplane radio. Their cover of “Air That I Breathe”, for instance, never reaches the vomit inducing levels of Simply Red’s take, but it is ill-informed, veering dangerously towards cheese and schmaltz at times. For a band that are capable of such perfect moments as “In My Dreams”, that’s a damn pity.

Still, in a world where country just plays to the soccer moms and those who wear trucker hats in a non-ironic context, this is a band that is NEEDED. In a world where alt-country/“Americana” foolery has been allowed to dominate, this band is NEEDED. Those of you who are bumping Ryan Adams and Wilco at the moment need to get your dick out of your ear, and get Raul slink-crooning “Because of You” in it instead. You’ll thank me later. You really will.

Reviewed by: Dom Passantino

Reviewed on: 2003-11-26

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