The Mavericks: self-titled

Andrew Gilstrap

The Mavericks

The Mavericks

Label: BMG
US Release Date: 2003-09-23
UK Release Date: 2003-09-22

Despite considerable chart success in the past, the Mavericks have never really fit into the Nashville scene. The band seems to prefer horns over pedal steel guitar, and vocalist Raul Malo's love for his native rhythms usually goes beyond the cursory dusting of border flavor that every country artist apart from Willy Nelson seems to favor. Add to that Malo's strong, Roy Orbison-inspired vocals, and you generally have music that's about as far away from twang as you can get. Still, with sweeping pop country like "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down", "What a Crying Shame", and "Here Comes the Rain", the Mavericks stand as a country band with few peers, a band that can swing with the best of them.

That group vision recently entered a holding pattern with the release of Malo's 2001 solo effort, Today, which found the lead singer exploring his Cuban roots more fully and taking his sweeping songwriting talents to their natural conclusions. It was such a strong effort that a new Mavericks record seemed almost like an afterthought: you could be forgiven for thinking the group had achieved all that it could, and that Malo saw a bold new solo path before him.

Turns out that Today truly did represent a break -- and not the end of the band -- as the Mavericks offer up another new album. True, Malo's the band's chief songwriter and dominant visionary, but the Mavericks as a band possess a different personality than Malo's solo efforts. In fact, Today was probably a necessary step for Malo -- a chance to fully explore his Cuban background free from the constraints of a band that didn't always want to go that way. Today didn't completely get Cuban rhythms out of Malo's system (nor should it have; they're obviously woven into the fiber of his being), but it's safe to say that they take a backseat on The Mavericks.

As if to underscore the point, The Mavericks kicks off with "I Wanna Know". The song's blend of jangly guitar and organ are so steeped in the vintage Springsteen playbook that you halfway expect a Clarence Clemons sax solo. "In My Dreams" is a mix of Tom Petty-style guitar, epic strings, and Malo's trademark vocals. "By the Time" blends reverb-heavy guitar, gently-paced acoustic strumming, and B3 organ, while "Would You Believe" sounds for all the world like a cosmic rewrite of the Monkees' "Daydream Believer". "A Little Too Lonely" makes good use of a loungey vibe, sprinkles of piano, and muted guitar jazziness. For some reason, Malo drops into a different register to sing "Time Goes By", but Willy Nelson's world-worn vocals are a perfect fit, and the song really works as a dose of stripped-down Mavericks soul.

Of the few songs that venture south of the border, "Shine a Light" teems with spry Cuban rhythms and horns, and is one of the few times the Mavericks really kick up their heels. On the other side of the fence, "Wandering" basks in a gentle rumba, fleshed out by plaintive accordion that places the song somewhere between a cantina and a French cafe. "San Jose" finds Malo really stretching out in Roy Orbison mode for one of the disc's most evocative cuts, although the strings sabotage the whole affair.

Taken as a whole, those strings are the album's biggest problem: they're too slick, too produced, and often too synthetic sounding to properly match the band's more sombre moments. Think vintage Doris Day, or Burt Bacharach, and you're in the right mind to imagine the syrup that drips over a little too much of The Mavericks. It's a shame, because the band's horns and other musical touches are assured and spot-on. The Mavericks have always enjoyed their share of gloss, but the strings that coat much of this disc feel like a shortcut, and they ultimately dim the lustre of some really fine songs. Fans will find plenty to like about The Mavericks, but they may also feel like the band doesn't break any new ground. To their credit, the Mavericks still aren't courting country radio, and The Mavericks is a welcome return, but the album falls short of earlier releases.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.