The Mavericks have always been one of the most unique country bands of the last 20 years. It’s funny, though, how you can lose track of even something as distinctive as the group’s blend of country, rockabilly, blues, and Tex-Mex rhythms. As far as frontman Raul Malo’s voice goes, we should all be able to hear that powerhouse baritone from half a continent away every time he sings.
But anyone could be forgiven for wondering if the band was still together or making music. The Mavericks’ last significant hit was 1998’s “Dance the Night Away”, and lineup issues did derail the band’s momentum for a time. Until 2013’s In Time (one of that year’s best — and most overlooked — records), the band hadn’t released a full album of new material since 2003’s The Mavericks, and even that was the product of a very brief period of reuniting. For all that, the band hasn’t lost a step, and you could argue that they’re currently experiencing a surge of newfound creativity. It’s only fair. The Mavericks were one of the few bands that met country chart success by becoming more daring and adventurous. Did that hurt them in the end? It’s hard to say, but it’s hard to imagine The Mavericks finding a home on modern country radio no matter what they did.
Mono picks up where In Time left off, with the Mavericks being an absolute blast to listen to. There’s arguably not a clunker in the bunch and its very easy to imagine several tracks — “All Night Long”, “Stories We Could Tell”, “(Waiting For) The World to End”, for example — becoming live staples. The romantic “Fascinate Me” sounds like it should be strummed on a boat in the moonlight. “The Only Question Is” is a shuffling blues barnstormer on which Malo cuts loose with that giant voice while Eddie Perez delivers stinging guitar lines. As usual, The Mavericks borrow from all of their influences. Their signature horns and latino rhythms are on full display, with Malo riding the groove of even the most swinging arrangements with startling ease. Even without whimsical tracks like “Summertime (When I’m With You)” or the playful way Malo inserts “We’re just waiting for this song to end” in a late chorus of “(Waiting For) The World to End”, the Maverick are never afraid to have fun. Heck, there are even flashes of ska.
It’s uncertain how the album’s “hook” of being recorded in mono will fare in the iTunes age, but Malo is right when he says these songs are strong enough to stand without studio trickery. The Mavericks’ sound is a fairly timeless one anyway due to the way it draws from multiple generations and cultures, and the band has played together for so long that they seem to greet the demands of any style effortlessly. It’s simply a pleasure to listen to the Mavericks, and here’s hoping that they’re back with us for a very long time.