Every once in a while, it’s good for a fanboy like me to get some perspective. I ask myself the tough questions: Is Julión Álvarez really the best singer on the continent, or has Chuy Lizárraga taken his crown? If a dance band from Chihuahua marketed itself as “puro Zacatecas sax,” would any listener be able to tell the difference? And most importantly, how many fans does it take to reach #2 on Billboard‘s Top Latin Albums chart?
The answer according to Billboard: a grand oughta do it. That worked in the case of the corrido quartet Enigma Norteño, whose I-dunno-10th? album La Vida del Rey (Fonovisa) just scraped up to #2 with 1,000 albums sold. Such a low sales tally is nothing new, and it certainly doesn’t reflect on Enigma’s quality — they’re a good little band — but it does remind us that, outside Gerardo Ortiz and a couple others, even the most popular norteño music remains unknown to most of the U.S. music-buying public.
(Also remember that Top Latin Albums measures only sales of albums-as-units, while Billboard‘s overall album chart, the Billboard 200, has moved to a “multi-metric” algorithm, which counts digital track sales and streams into an album’s chart position. And while some norteño fans collect albums, fans largely support the genre by going to shows and streaming songs online. To track how quickly the format caught up to digital, compare two Billboard articles. In June of 2006, the magazine wrote that regional Mexican was “barely a blip” in the digital world, with enormous catalogs unavailable online. By July 2013, Billboard could title its profile of DEL Records “Take Regional Digital,” writing, “Perhaps the most promising of those new artists is [Luis] Coronel, a singer who, like Ortiz, was a YouTube discovery. The teen already came with a social media following that’s gaining traction each day. Currently, he has more than 110,000 followers on Instagram, 82,000 likes on Facebook and 32,000 followers on Twitter.”)
Enigma Norteño has been corrido-ing around the countryside for roughly a decade, chronicling the exploits of various Sinaloa Cartel figures, including Zambadas both mayor and menor. True to form, their new album contains an ode to one of the Zambada sons, Serafin. The song that’s keeping them in business, though, is the blistering banda feature “Qué No Diera.” A love song by Joss Favela and Luciano Luna, the Diane Warren of norteño music, it’d be this week’s Pick to Click if Ernesto Barajas’s twee voice had any bite at all. He sounds like a reject from the Tierra Caliente convention, amirite? (Six lovelorn people nod in sympathy.)
Singing the Zambadas’ forbidden dance with more authority is Lenin Ramírez. Following two live albums, his DEL Records studio debut Siempre Firme (DEL/Sony) is long at 17 songs, and the banda arrangements seem dime-a-dozen on first listen, but Ramírez’s label bosses know how to mix things up. See “Con El Ojo En la Mira,” a banda duet with Ariel Camacho’s former bandmates Los Plebes del Rancho, and “Mi Borrachita,” a duet with the small group Revolver Cannabis; all these folks are on DEL.
Most exciting is this week’s Pick to Click “El Señor Zambada,” which pairs impressive requinto guitar flourishes with an oom-pah-pah rhythm section. Unlike Los Plebes’ rhythm section, though, the “oom” is handled by a bass and the “pah”s go to a small brass section. Innovation! (Good tune, too.)
And — because you can’t swing a sousaphone bell these days without whapping an El Komander single — here’s an El Komander single! And it’s about a big old truck! “La Tacoma” (Twiins) isn’t exactly new, but I think it’s new to streaming services and it’s not on his latest album Detrás del Miedo. It’s his usual cowpunk mix of guitars with a giddy tuba player who sounds like he’s getting away with something, only this time there’s an unexpected banda interlude.