REVIEW: The Mavericks’ “Play the Hits” Maintains Their Originality


What struck me about this LP is that it’s not on any major label. Then I thought maybe that’s good. Freedom. No business B/S. And so, recorded in Nashville, TN the 11-track “Play The Hits,” by The Mavericks. If nothing else it’s an excellently performed (Drops Nov 1st — Mono Mundo) document of what inspired them 30 years ago. Covers of songs played & shaped as they became The Mavericks.

The 43-minute LP was produced by Raul Malo & Niko Bolas. I never thought this band as country, because they were that distinctive & varied. My intro was “What a Crying Shame,” — from then on, addicted.

They were rockabilly sharp as The Blasters, Tex-Mex smart as Doug Sahm & the Texas Tornados, with a slickness of Blackhawk (“Goodbye Says It All”), Lowen & Navarro energy (“Cry”), durable as the Oysterband (“Cry, Cry”), rustic & original as The Band. With all those “sounds” at their disposal, The Mavericks maintained their originality.

The LP opens with Max Abrams’ sax on John Anderson’s “Swingin’” & it’s a sultry up-tempo Roy Orbison type track. Raul Malo’s (guitars, keyboards, percussion) radiating vocals — always excellent.

Going uptown with full brass on Waylon Jennings’ classic “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” is a memorable interpretation. Martina McBride duets with Raul on another Roy Orbison type tune “Once Upon a Time.” Raul soars vocally but, this doesn’t add anything special.

Malo, like Elvis, Lyle Lovett, Freddy Fender, Aaron Neville, possesses an instantly recognizable signature voice. Raul’s take on Freddy’s classic song “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” is done with respect & sincerity. Freddy would be proud.

The superb band: Eddie Perez (acoustic & electric guitars), Jerry Dale McFadden (electric & acoustic pianos, clavinet, organ) & Paul Deakin (drums). Guest performers & additional musicians include Michael Guerra (accordion, percussion), Julio Diaz & Lorenzo Molina Ruiz (trumpets & percussion), Ed Friedland (upright & electric bass). Mickey Raphael (harmonica on “Why Can’t She Be You”), & Matt Crappy trumpet on “I’m Leaving It Up To You.”

Most songs are handled with skill, but the flat tires are Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” a green bottle on a shelf beside many crystal clear bottles. “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” has too many hard “r’s” in the vocal. This is what vocal coaches teach you not to do. It’s Southern Comfort in a case of Old Crow, Jim Beam & Jack Daniels’.

To tackle an Elvis classic takes balls. Raul tries his best. “Don’t Be Cruel,” is credible, but once again despite Raul’s excellence, it shows why Elvis was Elvis & no one else was. But I must add, of all covers of this song (including Billy Swan’s great one), Raul’s swing at it has relevance & he gets it, he applies all the right moves & pizzazz. Nice brass with rapid-fire D.J. Fontana type drums.

The old infectious melody of “I’m Leaving It All Up To You,” shouldn’t work. A 1963 old school Dale & Grace top 40. But it does. Perfectly suited to Raul Malo’s vocal style. A pop tune turned into an almost Tex-Mex border song.

A lot to appreciate by The Mavericks. I love it. And sometimes that’s all that really matters. Available at Amazon & Barnes & Noble.


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