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Desfile de Hombres… AGAIN (starring Becky G, Aida Cuevas, Siggno, y más)

siggno (1)

The Billboard charts are boring this week, so please excuse the following disjointed rant…

As NorteñoBlog suggested last post, the Grammys’ approach to Mexican music is fairly ridiculous. The Grammys themselves are ridiculous — although if we forget that they’re supposed to be rewarding the best music, and instead see them as the dying public gasps of an increasingly irrelevant trade organization, with Neil Portnow facing down exciting existential dilemmas around every corner like Sarah journeying through the Labyrinth… well, I dunno if that helps.

aida cuevas grammyAND YET. For many musicians, especially the ones who don’t make much money, the Grammys are not ridiculous. Or maybe not merely ridiculous, but also useful. Take ranchera lifer Aida Cuevas, who won the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), against a field of men, for her independently released Arrieros Somos – Sesiones Acústicas. Cuevas used her untelevised Grammy moment to flaunt her charro outfit and to urge Mexican women to speak out against sexual harassment. I won’t pretend to enjoy this particular album of hers, but if we accept that both the Grammy awards and the Blog have slightly less aesthetic authority than one of those plastic duck bobbing contests at a carnival, my opinion doesn’t matter. Cuevas is a talented singer who releases her own music and received a podium. She made the most of her moment. The Mexican music world needs to let in more people like her.

So do the airwaves. If you study last week’s Regional Mexican airplay list, below, you’ll see Chiquis Rivera has dropped off, to be replaced by another token woman: Becky G, whose decidedly non-regional ode to older men, “Mayores,” somehow became the 40th most-played song on regional stations. (This week — not shown due to Blog laziness — she moves up to #22.)

Look, I know studying musicians’ chart positions is a ridiculous exercise. The charts rarely have anything to do with aesthetic quality, and observing the cultural hegemony of “Despacito” is only interesting for a day or so. But the charts do reflect who’s getting paid, and a complete absence of women tells you something unflattering about the values of the industry’s gatekeepers. What will it take to get actual norteño singers like Victoria “La Mala” or Laura Denisse onto the radio — or to get Diana Reyes or Los Horoscopos or Alicia Villarreal back on the radio?

While the Blog organizes a call-in campaign, let’s look at whose new songs are getting played. Radio station billboard anchor Gerardo Ortiz and whirling fount of Terpsichore Marco Flores have brought their VALE LA PENA Mexican hits to El Norte. Los Cardenales de Nuevo León and Los Huracanes del Norte head up the geriatric “beloved by Becky G” contingent with some straight-down-the-middle accordion lopes.

siggno que me amasBest of all: Somehow the Blog hasn’t yet noted “Que Me Amas,” a sweet love song from noted eyeliner-and-metal-t-shirt models Siggno. The song starts with “We Will Rock You”-style stadium stomping and distorted guitar, before switching to a midtempo accordion groove that splits the difference between backbeat and polka. You’ve heard Intocable pull this same trick, but Siggno does it better, becuase they keep switching back and forth. The accordion solo and closing drum fusillade are also jarringly good, enough to kick Siggno into coveted Pick to Click status:

And finally, the Blog would be remiss to not point out DJ Kass and his pesky viral hit “Scooby-Doo Pa! Pa!”, according to the Daily Mail the new “Harlem Shake” our nation deserves.
Continue reading “Desfile de Hombres… AGAIN (starring Becky G, Aida Cuevas, Siggno, y más)”

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Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring Alfredo Olivas, Los Inquietos, y más)

zapateado endemoniado

la rueda de la fortunaContinuing the sad theme of Albums NorteñoBlog Slept On In 2017, we turn to the fifth-or-so release from prodigious 23-year-old singer-songwriter-accordionist Alfredo Olivas, La Rueda de Fortuna (Sahuaro/Sony Latin). The Blog first encountered Olivas in the pre-Blog morass of 2013, when he appeared as a teenager on Hyphy Records’ cheapo compilation Hyphy Music Inc. Presenta El Corrido VIP 1era Edición. Comparing him and his cohort to punk rockers, and misspelling his name, I wrote, “Olvidas creates thin slashes of song, sometimes with one instrument insistently out of tune, tuba and accordion prancing around one another like bird of paradise evading some jungle cat, if that ever happens.” (I think I’d been watching a bunch of Planet Earth.)

Since then, Olivas has been sounding like more of a pro. He’s written a ton of songs — according to Wiki, over 1,000 during his life — and has lately turned away from the narcocorridos of his youth into more reflective and romantic work. Which isn’t to say he’s stodgy. “El Paciente” was one of 2017’s best singles, a soaring deathbed meditation whose energetic horn charts were set to “burble.” For his accordion songs, his band tackles different rhythms like Intocable, moving beyond the typical polkas and waltzes into grooves that approach rock. And his lyrics tend to be more interesting than typical for this genre, where song themes tend to stick to “I’m so in love with you,” “You unfaithful whore,” or “I’m such a big shot.”

antecedentes de culpaSee, for instance, the song sitting at #13 in Mexico. (Blog note: it’s since climbed to #4, but I’m too lazy to change the chart below.) In “Antecedentes de Culpa,” a guy has a drunken argument with his mujer, wakes up hung over, and regrets the whole thing. I’m not even sure what they’re arguing about, but it hardly matters; the argument dredges up a host of insults that sting worse than the subject of disagreement. It’s a precise, subtle portrait of how two lovers can choose exactly the right words to wound one another. (Standard translation caveats apply.) The music, naturally, is all swinging and sunshine, the band ruefully shaking their heads while their leader tries to talk his way out of his regret. Special props to Olivas’s drummer for leavening his beat with some cool snare rolls and subdivided cymbal work, and to the bassist for playing hooks. Pick to Click!

Also notable:
Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring Alfredo Olivas, Los Inquietos, y más)”

fire up video

When NorteñoBlog last noticed the West Coast sierreño quartet/quintet T3R Elemento at summer’s end, the shrift was short. Teenage lead singer Kristopher Nava “pushes his way through [debut hit single ‘Rafa Caro’] like the frantic-to-impress kid he likely is,” I wrote. Four months later, “Rafa Caro” is still hanging around both the Hot Latin chart and the radio airplay chart, and now these guys have another single on just the big chart — i.e., streaming and sales, but not much airplay yet. “Fire Up” is the new least favorite song of genteel antebellum marionette Jeff Sessions, offering as it does a Dr. Seuss-like panoply of suggestions for ingesting THC. Would you, could you, with a bong? Would you, could you, en el avión? Would you, could you, con la skunk? Saca un blunt and fire up!

underground“Fire Up” is a decent enough minor-key sierreño waltz — good harmonies during the chorus! — that it convinced me to check out the band’s 2017 debut studio album Underground (LA R/Parral). With some relief, I can announce I wasn’t sleeping on much. T3R Elemento are more interesting than good. Bilingual and multinational, they’ve got two members (requinto player Jose Felipe Prieto and acordionista Zeus Gamez) hailing from Mexico, while bassist Sergio Cardenas comes from Cuba and 17-year-old frontman Kristopher Nava is from Vegas. Produced by prolific Californian Fernando Cavazos, the album’s a mix of semi-energetic narcocorridos, for which Nava musters an overeager McLovin’ vibe, and drooly romantic ballads, which studiously avoid mustering any vibe at all. Notably, the ’50s sock hop ballad “Nos Pertenecemos (We Belong Together)” appears in both Spanglish and English versions, and fails to leave an impression either time. It’s entirely possible the whole thing sounds better if you follow Nava’s advice and get high off a doctored Swisher Sweet; I’ll let you know after I finish my Mario Kart/Unlikely Animal Friends marathon. NO VALE LA PENA

como los vaquerosThe better sierreño-laced sock hop single comes from DEL Records artists Lenin Ramirez and Ulices Chaidez. (more…)

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 11/22/17

espinoza

Welcome back to Songwriters’ Showcase, a not-at-all regular feature in which NorteñoBlog tries to muster some interest in the new songs on the Mexican radio chart, falls asleep in an office chair, and wakes up to find both lap cat and left foot asleep. Unable to move, the Blog faces two choices: pay bills or figure out who wrote the songs. The Blog chooses the marginally less depressing option.

tiempo recoditosAt #15 we find “Tiempo,” a romantic Banda Los Recoditos ballad written by Joss Favela, who’s capable of far more interesting work, both on his own and as a writer for hire. Here he depicts a lovelorn hombre begging a bored mujer for more time together. Their amor no ha terminado, you see, and he’s still got kisses on his labios, kisses that siguen esperando. We can only hope for an answer song where she curtly provides him with a rhyming dictionary.
NO VALE LA PENA

More labios haunt “Será Que Estoy Enamorado,” the latest sierreño-by-numbers ballad for Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, in at #8. Los Plebes, you’ll remember, left the late Camacho’s DEL Records hurling charges of “explotación.” They now record for indie label JG, where apparently they no longer have to credit their songwriters, because I can’t find a name associated with this thing anywhere. On the other hand, would you really want credit for this halfhearted attempt at tremulous amor? José Manuel López Castro’s affectless singing, sometimes an asset, just sounds bored, and even Irael Meza’s tuba sounds like it’s slinking towards the exit sign.
NO VALE LA PENA

espinoza paz chinguesAt #5 is the latest lost-love mariachi ballad from former baby-faced banda singer El Bebeto, “Seremos.” It was written and produced by Espinoza Paz, who has his own lost-love mariachi ballad, “No Me Friegues la Vida,” down at #14. In this case, Paz has wisely saved his best material for himself. “Seremos” is fine, a bittersweet and passive-aggressive “you’re gonna miss me” song, but there’s nothing passive about “No Me Friegues,” except that it really really would like to be called “No Me Chingues” if that wasn’t sure to chinga its airplay. (Recall Octavio Paz, no relation: “[Chingar] is a magical word.”) Besides being a good-humored cabron, Paz is a talented producer, and both these songs sound like breaths of fresh ranchera air, even incorporating accordion into their horn-and-string textures. Not sure whether he’s trying to bite Christian Nodal‘s “mariacheño” gimmick — but in any case, “No Me Chingues” is this week’s Pick to Click. The stately-smutty contrast puts it over the top.


Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 11/22/17”

Desfile de Muertos 11/4/17

kanales

Every year on his syndicated radio show “Country Classics,” DJ Rick Jackson compiles a playlist called “Creepy Country.” He claims to do this in honor of Halloween, but I know he’s really observing All Souls’ Day, since most of the songs are about death. And every year I’m amazed at the full spectrum of Death Takes available to country listeners: doomed (“I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”), hard-ass (“Delia’s Gone”), gleeful (“Goodbye Earl”), mawkish (“Paper Rosie”), legit heartswelling (“Riding With Private Malone”), campy creepy (any number of songs about people having conversations/dinner/sex with trucker ghosts), and just plain making fun of the whole enterprise (Steve Goodman’s deathless cover of “Strange Things Happen In This World” — “Undaunted, our hero plunges on!” — which, OK, wasn’t any kind of country hit, but Jackson still spun it one year). I shouldn’t be amazed. Death being even more universal than love, it makes sense that country singers would confront all the spectre’s faces, from sublime to ridiculous.

Same with norteño singers; maybe especially the same with narco singers. Narco singers sing about drug traffickers. Drug traffickers obsess about death for a living — how to avoid it, how to cause it, the value of lives and what happens when those lives end. Stands to reason that narcos, as depicted in song, would meditate extensively upon death and give varying answers to those questions. I won’t pretend this is anything other than a spooky coincidence, but the best songs on the U.S. hit parade this Día de Muertos capture several such meditations.

vengo a aclararEL FANTASMA THUMPS CHEST FOR DEAD HOMIES:
NorteñoBlog first noticed “Vengo a Aclarar,” the second narcocorrido hit for man-myth-legend El Fantasma, when it entered the radio chart way back in June. It remains in the top 10 thanks to an irresistible tune, shaggy brass charts, and some vivid character study. El Fantasma rasps in the persona of someone named “El Orejón,” whom a Hasty Cartel Google reveals to be a real dude. As always, the Blog turns to corridos for life lessons more than factual exactitude or specific (Gulf) cartel allegiances. Our antihero’s hardscrabble origins have taught him that “el oficio no importa, solo la humilidad” — the job doesn’t matter, only humility. Pretty sure that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.” I’ll see myself to the stake now.

Also like Jesus, El Fantasma’s narrator has love for the underdog — in his case, two cholo primos named Travieso and Slick — and finds himself singing among a great company of a thousand saints looking down on him from heaven. This is pop-bro spirituality in the vein of “See You Again” or “I’ll Be Missing You,” opened up to include a great cloud of witnesses. Of course, El Orejón might very well be responsible for killing some of those witnesses, so your sympathy may vary, but it’s a compelling portrait anyway.
VALE LA PENA

GERARDO ORTIZ CHRONICLES KILLER FROM HEAVEN: Continue reading “Desfile de Muertos 11/4/17”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 10/24/17

enigma septima

“Probablemente,” “Corrido de Juanito,” and a whole lot of banda romance continue to color the Mexican airwaves; but hang around long enough and you might hear something más interesante.

batallandole-400x400At #9 we find the corrido quartet Enigma Norteño all hopped up on some profesor chiflado shit. “Batallándole (El Gordo Flubbers)” is a corrido celebrating the Good Life, occasioned by the illicit negocios of its narrator and shoved along by one of the Blog’s favorite hitmaking machines, La Séptima Banda. In Ernesto Barajas’s lyric, the narco narrator looks back on his hardscrabble origins serving hamburgers and selling Tercel plans, and waxes philosophical — “Sometimes you win and also lose yourself; today I won for being El Mono Verde.” For reference, recall Gerardo Ortiz’s kickass corrido “El Mono Verde”. Some Hasty Cartel Googling confuses the Blog, but also indicates “El Mono Verde” isn’t the same guy as “El Mono,” who was assassinated in 2015 and is therefore no longer winning.

At its core, this ode to drug trafficking competition is really a celebration of companionship, best expressed when Enigma and La Séptima stop trading lines to sing together, “En las helaaaaadas con camaraaaaaadas.” Well, OK, a celebration of companionship made possible through a morally suspect business. It’s basically the first half of Boogie Nights before 1980 comes along and everything goes to hell, or Flubber y El Profesor Chiflado before Robin Williams starts snorting the Flubber and becomes a monster to his wife and children. But until then, the combined bands bounce with the force of 20 bowling balls. PICK TO CLICK

If there’s one confusing hierarchical enterprise, dependent upon filthy lucre and violent acts of revenge, that I don’t really care to understand, it’s the cartel world. If there’s a second, it’s The Voice. My basic understanding is that The Voice, like its Mexican counterpart La Voz… México, is a four-step process:
Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 10/24/17”

Christian Nodal y Calibre 50 en la Jukebox

corrido de juanito

La semana pasada, los dos #1 éxitos más recente en la U.S. radio, “Regional Mexican” edición, recibieron la alabanza y la oprobrio de la Singles Jukebox. Particularmente con “Corrido de Juanito” de Calibre 50, Rebecca Gowns y Stephen Eisermann escribieron historias de sus familias y vecinos; me hicieron sentir orgulloso de escribir con ellos para el sitio.

Además, ¡escucha a Sparx!

Escribí:

Christian Nodal ft. David Bisbal – “Probablemente”
In the grand tradition of “Somethin’ Stupid,” a young boot-flaunting star teams up with a respected singer who’s twice as old to score a second #1 hit, in which the singers depict a let’s-say-undefined romantic relationship. There are differences, though. In “Probablemente,” teenaged Christian Nodal sounds at least twice as old as David Bisbal; “Probablemente” also has more accordion; but whoever played guitar for Frank and Nancy got to strum something less stupid than straight 8th notes the whole time.
NO VALE LA PENA

Calibre 50 – “Corrido de Juanito”
Despite its #MexicanoHastaElTope kicker, Calibre 50’s latest immigration story sounds more defeated than immediate precursors like Adriel Favela’s “Me Llamo Juan” (everyman comes to the U.S., struggles through poverty and odd jobs, starts successful company) or Calibre’s own “El Inmigrante” (everyman comes to the U.S., suffers various humiliations, starts successful string of “-ado” rhymes). It also sounds more defeated than Sparx’s chipper Clinton/Zedillo-era ranchera murder ballad, but we’ll say their “Corrido de Juanito” is not a precursor, at least until Calibre songwriter Edén Muñoz corrects me. The defeat resides partly in Muñoz’s melody, rising hopefully before collapsing into perpetual sighs; partly in the slow tempo and settled-in length, unusual for a radio corrido; but mostly in Juanito’s sadness at missing his family and feeling like an outsider everywhere, even around his own English-speaking, El Norte-born children.
VALE LA PENA

Los Reyes del Underground? Noel Torres, Los Plebes del Rancho, y El Fantasma en Desfile de Éxitos 9/30/17

noel torres laughing

Norteño, banda, sierreño, and the newfangled one-man genre of mariacheño have begun to claw their way back onto Billboard‘s Hot Latin chart — we’re up to 11 regional Mexican songs in the top 50 this week, from only eight four weeks ago. As they claw, it’s time for an installment of NorteñoBlog’s rarely repeated feature Record Label Report, mostly because this week’s most interesting songs are on indie labels, and I can’t think of anything else to write about.

Noel Torres - Se Vinieron Los Problemas-300x300ITEM! Hotshot accordion slinger Noel Torres has left the relative safety of the Sony-distributed Gerencia 360 label, instead opting for the ????-distributed wilds of his own NT label. The Blog has found no internet evidence of controversy or Los Plebes-style explotación driving Torres away from his previous label; but if you’re wondering why that “cien por cien norteño” followup to his last, fairly terrible banda album never materialized, this may explain why. Torres’s debut indie album La Vida a Mi Modo (NT) is not cien por cien norteño, but it’s about half and half, with someone’s hot lead guitar accompanying both norteño and banda arrangements, in the style of his previous wicked single “No Andan Cazando Venados.”

Torres’s newfound lack of commercial clout is evident, though. In 2016, the aforementioned banda album debuted at #2 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart; before that, La Balanza debuted at #1. NT dropped La Vida on August 4 and it has yet to chart; we’ll see if his pretty good narcocorrido single, the fake friends lament “Se Vinieron Los Problemas” (#39 at radio), helps matters. Dude can still play accordion, that’s for sure.

la suerte¡ÍT! Speaking of exploiting or not exploiting Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, they’ve got a couple radio songs out there right now. The better tune is the rags-to-riches narcocorrido “La Suerte,” the lead-off title track of their April album, released on the indie JG label. The narrator of “La Suerte” started at the bottom as an errand boy and now, with loyal friends handling his raw materials and offices in the Americas and Europe, has gone intercontinental if not ballistic. (“Nadie batalla conmigo,” he claims, and it is in your interest to believe him.) Israel Meza is the tuba player; like DEL Records’ Omar Burgos, Meza used to play with the late Ariel Camacho, and he’s got some real whack-a-mole solos between stanzas here, popping up to taunt the smoother guitar and vocals of his 20-year-old bandleader, José Manuel López Castro. Pick to Click!


Continue reading “Los Reyes del Underground? Noel Torres, Los Plebes del Rancho, y El Fantasma en Desfile de Éxitos 9/30/17”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/11/17

ulices chaidez women

First things first: our friends in Mexico, especially southern Mexico and the Gulf coast, are dealing with the twin destructive forces of a magnitude 8.1 earthquake and Hurricane Katia. People have lost family, friends, and homes in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz. If you can swing it, this website has a list of organizations, including the Red Cross and UNICEF, that can use your cash to help people recover from the destruction. Remember, Mexico has sent all kinds of help to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Now Mexico needs help; and since climate change doesn’t care whether we dig Tejano or huapango or (G-d save us) “Despacito,” now is a good time for us to practice dealing with its fallout. Climate change’s fallout, not “Despacito”‘s. Although feel free to help Puerto Rico out, too.

omar burgos delNow, on with the countdown! This past weekend in Chicago I was playing the radio game “ScanQuiz!”, where you hit “Scan” on the car radio and try to name each song you hear before the radio moves on to the next station. Besides being a superfun test of mettle, ScanQuiz! is also a good way to survey who’s broadly popular with radio listeners. Shawn Mendes and Imagine Dragons are always lurking somewhere. Led Zeppelin will never die. And tubist Omar Burgos, by virtue of playing with both versions of Los Plebes del Rancho and los Plebes de Ulices Chaidez, has created one of the most dominant instrumental sounds on Chicago radio. Scan for a half hour and you’re likely to hear a sierreño song, probably played by one of Burgos’s bands; but even if the tubist is someone else, his bandleader owes his popularity to Burgos’s late employer Ariel Camacho, whose own posthumous hits still pop up like White Walkers.

porque me enamoreBurgos and Chaidez are also doing well in Mexico, where this week their year-old song “Porque Me Enamore” ascends to #2. (In El Norte, the song is #1 at RegMex radio.) You can catch them in the very special video, both “recording” in the studio and offering support to a young lady at her chemo sessions. This is standard-issue sierreño prettiness, and not the most memorable example of the style, but you can see why it’s big. Chaidez sings with misty teenage sensitivity and just the hint of an edge to his voice, and Burgos propels the arrangement with an opening flourish, flutter tongue madness, cool little pendulumic swings into his notes — just an endless variety of ideas and effects, all of which enhance rather than disrupt the song. He’s got as much personality as any instrumentalist around. Teen music with inoffensive, cross-generational appeal — kind of like Shawn Mendes!

loco enamoradoBetter yet is the sierreño bass (not tuba) trio at #11. “Loco Enamorado” represents a new bandwagon leap for Remmy Valenzuela, whom the Blog has admired for his accordion chops and for the lovely rasp in his voice’s upper register. Here he’s playing rhythm guitar on a song about how crazy in love with you he is. Spare a listen for the lead requinto player, who executes a bunch of exciting flourishes that have inspired YouTube tutorials. (Spare also his name, if you know it, because I can’t figure out who the guy is.) I’d say Valenzuela’s voice alone would make any song worth hearing, but his NO VALE LA PENA followup banda single “Mi Amante” disproves that theory.  But in “Loco Enamorado,” his voice and some mean requinto picking sell an entirely decent romantic ballad that has the temerity to move back and forth between two different keys. Pick to Click!


Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/11/17”

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