Julión Álvarez has been called many things: the best singer on the continent (OK, that was me), “un gran ejemplo para la juventud mexicana” (THAT was the president of México), the biggest deal in regional Mexican music last year because Gerardo Ortiz didn’t release a new album, and… Well, people don’t actually talk about Álvarez that much, even though he’s never made a bad album that I’ve found, and his last album produced three radio hits. The former Banda MS singer has worked his way from an indie to a major label with an impressive consistency that may be hard to write about. Álvarez emerges from the studio once a year with an untroubled good album: mostly uptempo, a variety of styles, and a voice that sounds both lived-in and young, toying with its own scratchy crags and the tricky rhythms of his trio and a big banda. “Y Así Fue,” his single from 2014, could have been anyone’s spritely sex romp, but Álvarez rendered it indelible with the little swoops in his voice. His unpredictable vibrato threatens to lose the pitch at any moment, almost like he’s about to cry.
So he’s a romantic who makes easy listening. The thing is, Indispensable was the best album of 2014 because it was so easy to listen to, and each listen revealed something new about the singer’s devotion to musical pleasure. Álvarez’s new album, El Aferrado (Fonovisa), sounds after a couple listens like a singer who’s successfully codified that pleasure, at least for himself. There are surprising moments like the title song, a Pick to Click that combines the two ensembles to jarring effect. But though trombone, tuba, and accordion reinvent the song nearly every second they play, nobody ever sounds like they’re about to lose it. It’s a very professional take on Wild Banda + Trio. The lead single, a ballad called “El Amor De Su Vida,” is far worse, to the point where you might not even know Álvarez is singing. The greatness of his singing has always dwelled in his sense of rhythm and phrasing as much as the unique grain of his voice. Now the grain of his voice remains, but nothing gets caught on it, least of all the pat melody of “Amor.”
The band name Luis y Julián Jr. pays tribute to Luis y Julian, a stolid country harmony duo from, oh, the ’90s or possibly earlier. I’m not sure whether Luis y Julian Sr. sang songs with the kind of macho, tight-lipped sense of humor that makes me certain they’re about to bash my head against the bar; but Luis y Julián Jr. sure do! “Las Muchachas de Estos Tiempos” is your standard “women and their Facebook dragging me away from my cockfights, amirite” song; the duo also sings something I’m guessing not entirely complimentary about Boy George and “Georgie” Michael. Drinks in your faces, assholes. NorteñoBlog has previously covered their latest single “Asi es el Juego,” ft. Naty Chávez, a cover of Colmillo Norteño. Its explicit take on Real Talk norteño balladry is sort of cute, but it’s not like you’d wanna listen to it for the music or anything. So three more drinks to the face, and expect more of the same on what I think is their debut album, A Chin… ¿pos Qué Pasó? (Remex).
Shalia Dúrcal is from Spain but has gotten some traction in México, having sung with Jenni Rivera and delved into Mexican styles. Her latest single “No Me Interesa” blends Nashville guitar licks, ranchera horns, and electropulse into something that never peaks but is more compelling for it. Second Pick to Click, what the heck, and her self-titled sixth (?) album is just out on EMI. The album opens with “Has Sido Tú,” a tech-folk-ranchera stomper whose main riff is lifted directly from one of Slash’s solos in “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Now the second song, sweeping ballad “Yo Daría,” is sweeping me off my feet. I have extremely high hopes for this album and should probably just liveblog it. (I won’t tell you who Durcal’s mom is, you’ll have to look that shit up, but fear not — it’s in the first paragraph of every bio.) Go listen to Shalia Dúrcal!
Uriel Henao, “El Rey del Corrido Prohibido,” releases albums on his own self-titled label and just put out an Éxitos comp. “La Mafia Continua” is about the mafia and how it continues.
Not to be outdone, Los Rieleros del Norte have just released their 42nd album, Corridos y Canciones de Mi Tierra. Their tierra is Pecos, TX, though like many Texas bands they get their puro sax style from Chihuahua. Lead single “Mis Peores Deseos” has effortless appeal, just like every other Rieleros song I’ve ever heard.
Sadly I don’t have time to lead you down the rabbit hole of puro Chihuahua and/or Zacatecas sax, but check out the good folks at MundoNorteño, who’ve been going crazy with that stuff.