At NorteñoBlog as in life, there’s a handful of generally beloved artists who I wish I liked better, because I can hear what other people hear in their music and it just doesn’t do much for me. I’m thinking of Sleater Kinney, or Taylor Swift before I fell for her Red album (and then promptly fell away from 1989). Intocable may fall into this category as well — I just tried again with their 2008 album 2C (Capitol), and found it accomplished but meh. These artists have obvious talent but they’re a chore to put on; in the words of Half Japanese, they follow no direct line from my brain to my heart.
Into their company waltzes Calibre 50, whose new album Historias De La Calle (Andaluz/Sony) just debuted at #1 on Billboard‘s Latin Albums chart. Led by accordionist/singer/songwriter Eden Muñoz, Calibre plays with clarity and invention. They root half their repertoire in the classic templates of corridos and cumbias. Check out the new album’s lead song, “El Amor No Fue Pa’ Mi,” to hear a band that knows exactly how to shape a four-chord polka for maximum definition and novelty. This song is packed with more hooks — shared among singers, squeezebox, and sousaphone — than many full-length norteño albums. Pick to Click!
Despite having made some other songs I like a lot, one of which is the big dumb cumbia that closes this album, Calibre has a couple major flaws. Like Intocable, the band has a soft spot for convincing but expendable pop ditties like “Aquí Estoy.” And despite all my advice and admonitions, Calibre persists in playing romantic ballads. Fans keep buying and streaming these ballads, so Calibre keeps making them, even though they sound like the final gasps of a decaying bellows. Their new “Qué Bonita Tú” is no exception; I therefore expect it’ll be a huge hit. Enjoy the big glob of “La Gripa” while it’s still around!
So far I’ve only listened to half of Historias, so the jury’s still out, but the first half is a typically mixed Calibre effort. At the other end of the spectrum — more generic, but also more consistent — is Brazeros Musical and their new banda album, aptly titled Con Sabor a Banda (Skalona). Like several other acts, Brazeros started off playing duranguense during its boom period a decade ago; once duranguense faded, they abandoned their buggy whips and went banda. A decade from now, who knows?
Con Sabor sticks to the banda-pop template: strong start, track 5 cumbia, weak ending, decent rebound due to some chromatic trombone on the last song. But along the way, Brazeros find the creative touches of biz veterans who know they have to keep people’s attention to survive. “Las Chicas Mafia” tosses a guitar into the horns, as does the bachata-flirting “Cosa Seria.” Maybe you have to like swoopy pop melodies as much as I do, but I’ll go out on a limb and say VALE LA PENA.