When NorteñoBlog last checked in with Alfredo Ríos El Komander, it was right after el primero de enero and everyone was still pisteando. This is inexcusable. Komander is the premier singles artist of our time, as proven by the 21-song digital album El Komander 2015 Top 20 (Twiins), which showcases his tuba-driven norteño band. Under their fingers, the nerviest sentiments become off-the-cuff, and the silliest drinking songs swing like a hammer throw competition. Despite sounding like they’re inventing their music as they go, they rarely settle for less than consummate hooks and popcraft.
They also rarely stand still. Since that collection, Komander and his manos have released a bunch more songs. NorteñoBlog sleeps on them no longer!
First up is “El Chef de las Cocinas,” in which Sr. Ríos introduces us to his stove. Turns out he runs a cracking meth biz in Sinaloa, where he can enjoy the fresh air while strolling through the hills surrounded by his army of ex-militia soldiers. His product is all locally sourced — “nada es ‘Made In China'” — and socially responsible, in that Komander doesn’t deal with people who are racist. I’m not ashamed to tell you I would vote El Komander’s meth operation for president over Donald Trump. Not that meth is so great, but Trump’s just a really low bar. Musically the song is an appealing but rote corrido, with most of its action coming from the tubist, who plays as a rock-hard extension of the drum kit, coordinating his hits and fills with the cymbals. VALE LA PENA
We move from there to some Mexican CNN type shit, or at least to some Hasty Cartel Googling. In the Sinaloa Cartel there’s a big shot named Ismael Zambada, “El Mayo,” who sired an apparently well-fed son also named Ismael, “El Mayito Gordo.” El Mayito was arrested in 2014 and has since been extradited to the U.S., where tunneling out of prison is illegal. Jesus Chairez of the band Los Chairez wrote a song about the arrest and everybody has since covered it, or at least everybody who sings about real life cartel arrests: Grupo Poderozo, Crecer Germán, Enigma Norteño, and now our friend Sr. Riós. As usual with these things, it’s not much of a song, or maybe it just doesn’t translate easily — a whole lot of local color and misplaced heroics but zero suspense. Komander’s version, “Plan Zambada Imperial (La Captura del Mayito Gordo)” features a dramatic video with some serious Twiins money behind it. Aerial photography! Pero NO VALE LA PENA!
“El Toque de Maria” finds our hero strutting through the same opulent narco-land of aerial photography, only this time he’s bragging about los pertrechos del narco: fast cars, hotties, Buchanan’s, various luxuries, yadda yadda yadda. Honestly, this kind of thing has been done better, and despite featuring an ensemble similar to the one that enlivened “El Chef,” the music is less defined and more generic. NO VALE LA PENA
So it’s something of a relief when Sr. Ríos rediscovers his capacity for romance in “No Te Cuesta Nada,” which is not a remake of the Javiera Mena song. In fact it’s better: a sort of heavy tango, not heavy in the loud guitar sense, but heavy in the sense of “here’s this big ungainly thing I’m trying to carry up the stairs and it keeps slipping from my grasp.” Partly this is the work of the unusually resonant kick drum (unless that’s a tololoche I’m hearing — there’s no tuba), partly it’s the impassioned wheezing of the accordionist who insists on playing while Komander sings, and whose vibratoed cry is a beacon to every heart a-flutter. Komander has never been the most believable crooner, or even the crooner least likely to send people running hastily from the room to keep “appointments” — as his other recent slow jam “Prohibida” demonstrates — but give him a groove and he knows what to do. VALE LA PENA
Even better is “Desaparecido,” an immigrant song of dashed hopes that’s breathtaking in its stark empathy. The song’s hero, Javier, tells his poor mother he knows a coyote who can get him across the border and into El Norte for free. After spending four days in the wilderness, Javier begins thinking he’s been tricked, but then they cross the border, and the better life of his dreams is so close he can almost taste it. That is, until his companions begin getting shot one by one. Javier is bewildered. Cut to Javier’s mother nine months later, and all we know about him is he’s still missing. The band plays the uptempo song as jauntily as it might a drug caper; all those snare drum rat-a-tats and tuba fills make you feel the spring in Javier’s step, the hope that won’t die until he does. The song makes no outrageous claims and ends with no moral; it simply tells a story that needs to be told. Not just VALE LA PENA, this startling song is Sr. Ríos’s latest claim to greatness, and today’s Pick to Click:
That said, Sr. Ríos is an incorrigible gallo, and his latest single “El México Americano” finds him crowing with the pride of the two nations he calls home. His apa jumped the puddle and he still has love for his primos down south, but since then, he’s established a successful tax-free business in El Norte with the help of his cuerno. The band is spectacular on this one, tuba jumping all over, drums skittering like a frantic pencil over paper, and somebody hollering out tuneless high harmonies during the choruses. If anyone deserves a rare double Pick to Click, it’s the hardest working singles artist around:
VALE LA PENA!