mariachi divasNorteñoBlog has never been confused about the popularity of Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea among Grammy voters. They’re a talented group of women playing a style traditionally dominated by men — though not, let’s face it, as traditionally dominated as norteño or banda — making them a safe and progressive choice for voters with only a passing knowledge of the genre. That whiff of the “progressive” extends to their music, which boasts sophisticated arrangements that sometimes change tempos or cover non-mariachi songs. In other words, they’re progressive in the somewhat tortured sense of most genre progressives: “elevating” a style that doesn’t need elevating and appealing to people who don’t normally enjoy the style. Their Disney gig hasn’t hurt their profile, either. (“We particularly enjoy the Divas’ rendition of ‘It’s a Small World,'” says a travel site.) Their new album La Cima Del Cielo (East Side) sparkles and shines with the cheer of a sweaty theme park employee dressed up like a princess. They cover Linda Ronstadt’s “Lago Azul.”

dueloNo stranger to the “progressive” tag, the norteño-pop band Duelo is back, reliably charting high with their Intocablish new album Veneno (La Bonita). The title single levels insults at a heartless, icy, poisonous, murderous, dream-killing (SHALL WE GO ON?) mujer with unchecked midtempo momentum. Good riff, though I wish they sounded remotely venomous.

margarita la diosaA tad more interesting is Margarita “La Diosa de la Cumbia,” who, along with the dude from Bacilos, sang the theme song for La Fea Más Bella, the novela remake that’d go on to become Ugly Betty in its U.S. incarnation. (This title sequence seems to take up an entire episode.) Her new album Sin Fronteras (Warner) is part cumbia, part feel-good pop/rock with nods to modern salsa, not unlike Bacilos. The single “Te Di Todo” could introduce a novela remake of Beverly Hills 90210.

los cuates se acabaronBreaking Bad‘s favorite corridistas (and NorteñoBlog research project) Los Cuates de Sinaloa are back to their original trio format, guitar-guitar-bass, on Se Acabaron las Caricias (Los Cuates de Sinaloa), which unfortunately doesn’t seem to have any videos yet. It’s well worth streaming, though. Second song “Que Bonita Chica” sounds especially great, with effortless bounce and unadorned groove. Likely VALE LA PENA.

los inquietosFormer hyphy/not-hyphy scenesters Los Inquietos Del Norte are back with another super-serious country song, “Como Perro Amarrado” (Eagle). Though less twee than Tierra Cali’s song of the same name, it’s nowhere near as good as Jamey Johnson’s song of the same sentiment, which somehow made emasculation sound badass. Los Inquietos just sound defeated, though if Sr. Meza ever tires of singing norteño, some fine operatic roles await him — sad clowns and all that.