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When NorteñoBlog mentioned yesterday that Christian Nodal‘s duet with David Bisbal, “Probablemente,” had ascended to #1 at regional Mexican radio, I left out a few relevant facts. First, Billboard reports that this is the Spanish Bisbal’s third appearance on the regional Mexican chart, a fact I find remarkable since both those previous tunes sound about as Mexican as I do. Which isn’t to say they’re bad. With its politely distorted riff, pensive acoustic fills, anthemic chorus, and chordally sophisticated bridge, “Quien Me Iba a Decir” could be prime Richard Marx. (You better believe such a thing exists.) What it was doing on RegMex radio in 2006 I have no idea, but that was the era when the Black Eyed Peas were scoring minor hits on the same format. It’s an era I want to return.
Second, Nodal’s long-awaited debut album Me Dejé Llevar (Fonovisa) is the top Regional Mexican album in the land, showcasing as it does his crooning-beyond-its-years voice and (sigh) trademark “mariacheño” style, which I think means a mariachi band with a lead accordion. As both Wiki and Gustavo Arrellano note, this isn’t a wholly unprecedented combination — Angelica Maria‘s “Me Gusta Estar Contigo” and Juan Gabriel‘s “Caray” got there first, and both are way more fun than anything on the surprisingly stodgy Me Dejé Llevar. Though I don’t cover much mariachi, that’s mostly because it’s not in vogue right now; one of the Blog’s founding principles is that Vicente Fernandez‘s “Estos Celos” and Jose Feliciano‘s tribute album My Love for Mexico are surpassing works of art. That’s because they’re full of color and life — singers doing unexpected things with their voices, instruments combining into rhythms of unstoppable momentum.
And that’s the third thing: “Probablemente,” like most of Nodal’s album, is just dull. As has been noted, Nodal’s first single “Adiós Amor” was an excellent performance of a perfect pop song. The melody went to novel places and the syncopated guitar groove motored the whole thing along. On “Probablemente” the guitarist opts for straight 8th notes, which gets old, if not water-torturey, real fast. The uninspired horn lines have little purpose apart from anouncing “¡Mariachi!” while Nodal croons and displays his admittedly impressive range. But he never loses himself to the whoops of joy or sobbing heartbroken despair of his elders. Like U.S. folk music, mariachi needs to at least flirt with bad taste, or it risks becoming simply a museum exhibit about national spirit and heritage. Blech.
A Nodal profile at Diario de Mexico shows a serious young man, worryingly describing his music as though it were a plate of locally farmed Brussels sprouts. “At the moment, the youth don’t know much mariachi, because they don’t know the names of some composers,” he says. “Banda and sierreño are in style; I think it’s necessary that people get to know our mariachi music again.” I’ll admit, it seems to be working for him. His first two singles topped their radio format in two different countries, quite an accomplishment. And the album isn’t all bad — “Vas a Querer Regresar” at least gives the guitarist something bouncy to do, and on “Yo No Sé Mañana” Nodal sounds like a swarthy Julio Iglesias fronting Chicago, before they both shift into a Marc Anthony-style salsa groove. But for most of Me Dejé Llevar, the gifted singer/songwriter lets his piety get the better of him.
NO VALE LA PENA