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The essential Freddy Fender on CD

Mario Tarradell
The Dallas Morning News

Freddy Fender, who died Saturday at age 69, enjoyed three distinct musical periods during his recording career. He was the heralded bilingual king of country-pop crossover hits in the mid-'70s; the integral member of two acclaimed groups, the Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven; and the beloved Grammy winner with his return to the Mexican boleros and folk songs of his youth.

Here's a look at four must-have discs from the Texan singer born Baldemar Huerta:

"20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection: The Best of Freddy Fender" (MCA Nashville, 2001)

The best compilation of Fender's star-making 1970s output, including the huge pop-crossover hits "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" and "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." The 12-track disc also includes the No.1 country smashes "Secret Love" and "You'll Lose a Good Thing," as well as the bilingual staple "Vaya Con Dios." Fender's crooning vocals -- blending equal parts country, rock `n' roll and Mexican boleros styles -- were at their most melodic during this period.

"Texas Tornados" (Reprise, 1990)

The debut album from the Tex-Mex supergroup that also featured Flaco Jimenez, Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers remains the best of the batch. From the swinging good time of "(Hey Baby) Que Paso" to the beautifully melancholy "A Man Can Cry" and the Grammy-winning conjunto gem "Soy de San Luis," this CD still sounds inspired 16 years after its release.

"Los Super Seven" (RCA, 1998)

Again, the first recording is the zenith. Yet another supergroup -- which included Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Rick Trevino and Joe Ely, among others -- with a Southwestern flavor. But this time the music was all over the Americana map, from the Texas country-folk heft of "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)" to the traditional Mexican ranchera power of "Mi Ranchito." Los Super Seven also proved that Fender could work in a democratic musical group setting not once, but twice, in his career.

"La Musica de Baldemar Huerta" (Back Porch, 2002)

Fender couldn't have delivered a better swan song. By returning to the deeply moving boleros and rancheras of his ancestors, the music he grew up listening to, Fender takes his career full circle. Most important, who would have thought that 27 years after his mass success, he'd be able to passionately and lovingly sing classics such as "Perfidia" and "Despedida." He won a much-deserved Grammy for this one.

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