music, charts, opinions



Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (junio 2018)

la zenda nortena

It is NorteñoBlog’s longstanding position that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. The world’s top puro sax curator DJ Alfonzin directs me to the latest from Los Últimos de Topochico, a Monterrey seven-piece that’s been around since at least 2012 but has left a very small footprint in El Norte. They’re trying to change that with the male-gazey video for “Regálame Ésta Noche” (alternate title: “Sáxame Ésta Noche”), in which an extremely sheepish bro fantasizes about his hot girlfriend abandoning him and donning fancy lingere to hook up with another random woman they met at a restaurant. Astute YouTube commentor YsyNicole points out that this plot is a naked attempt to drive click traffic. The worst part is, Los Últimos are good enough that they didn’t need to seem so desperate. This “Regálame” is a far cry from Javier Solis’s sentimiento standard — it’s faster and catchier, and if you listen to this genre for the endless entwinings of sax and accordion, wrapping around one another like pea vine tendrils, this tune produces.

huapango de rockyThose seeking to avoid Los Últimos’ sexist clickbait scheme are directed instead to their “El Huapango de Rocky Balboa” (aka “Gonna Sax Now”), a crowd-pleasing medley of “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger,” performed in the trickily subdiveded and lately hip huapango folk dance style. Or to their self-released 2017 EP, Los Perrotes de Monterrey, which opens with a huapango version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and remains just as delightful for three more songs. There’s a fine line between crassness and toxicity, as we learned from El Sistema de un Abajo, and those who fall squarely into the “crass” category deserve all the attention they can get. VALE LA PENA

sueno americanoWe last caught up with Dallas’s bestselling La Energia Norteña in late 2016, when their dull fifth album for the Azteca label was topping Billboard‘s Regional Mexican album chart. They’ve since released album #6, El Sueño Americano (suggested title: El Sueño Saxual), which is no less dull and sadly is not a sax-and-accordion-driven concept album about the plight of immigrants, although the saxless title lament addresses that topic. But maybe this critique is too short-sighted. Surely the plight of immigrants is a multifaceted plight, encompassing diverse subjects like SEDUCING WOMEN THE DAY BEFORE THEY MARRY SOMEONE ELSE AND CALLING IT THEIR “BACHELORETTE PARTY” (“Despedida de Soltera”)??? Talk about plight. Like calling a precious kitten “Big Guy” or Donald Trump “Mr. President,” “La Energia” seems to be a name bestowed with irony, since these guys make even their pre-wedding seductions sound staid. NO VALE LA PENA
Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (junio 2018)”

Los Ritmos de Remex Records


When NorteñoBlog last caught up with Remex Records, the YouTube telenovela factory that fronts as a powerhouse indie label, its star Edwin Luna had just begun floating trial balloons for a coup solo career. Flaring his nostrils with serious artistic intent, Luna had recently begun separating his name from that of his banda, La Trakalosa de Monterrey, and… acting in their 20-minute music videos. Surely before long they’d separate? Amid rancor and acrimony? Two competing bandas criss-crossing the continent with increasingly side-eyed arrangements of “Mi Padrino El Diablo”?

Thankfully we’re not there yet. Singer and banda are still united and scoring bi-national hits as Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa, with a thriving production company — Editraka — that hosts fitness classes. (Their “flared nostril burpees” are killers.) But Luna is also experimenting with some solo tunes of his own. Rest assured they are terrible.

edwin-luna-amor“Es Tiempo de Amar” is his bid for a big unifying national pop ballad. The video has Mexicans of every age singing about love and brighter tomorrows, some lavish hand gestures, inspiring words on pieces of cardboard (more Love Actually than “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), and a closing quote from Madre Teresa de Calcutta. (You were expecting maybe Sor Juana?) There’s nothing norteño about it, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if Luna knew how to sing non-norteño songs with any semblance of a personality. There’s also nothing topical about it, unless you hear the line “Es tiempo de… recuperar lo perdido” as a call for the Mexican government to fix the country’s kidnapping problem, along the lines of Intocable‘s “Día 730.” But, as we’ve seen recently, governments have enough trouble reacting to even overwhelming gestures of dissent. Subtlety in this case is NO VALE LA PENA.

What’s that? Hawaiian noises? Continue reading “Los Ritmos de Remex Records”

¡Nuevo! (ft. Patrulla 81, Rosendo Robles)

patrulla 81

Two tiny and somewhat exciting finds this week:

The first, Patrulla 81’s A Tamborazo, aka Puro Tamborazo Duranguense No Chin%$^@%$…, is unrepentant duranguense with a couple ballads thrown in — because when you’re dancing like you’ve got chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe, sometimes you need to take a break. A decade ago, when duranguense was surging and plagues of scorpions stalked Chicago’s streets, I didn’t much keep up with Patrulla. Like genre leaders Grupo Montéz, they always seemed polite and overthought, without the cool synth tuba lines and tambora blasts of their peers in Alacranes Musical. I’m not sure what’s happened to them, but they sound leaner and tougher now, with fewer cheesy synth leads, more assertive vocals, and lots of tambora. Truth in advertising! This probably means my memory’s lousy and I should revisit their older stuff. A Tamborazo came out December 17 on the BMC label, which doesn’t seem to be the same BMC Records that operates a website.

Even better is a self-released single by Rosendo Robles, “Alterado de Corazon,” a banda waltz of furious excitement and possibly sharp brass sections. Possibly tuned sharp, I should say, although the jagged horn rhythms certainly feel like whirling blades of death, the kind of things you’d contort your shoulders trying to avoid in the upper reaches of a video game. Robles is a graduate of the TV talent show Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento (TTMT), and since he apparently burns with white hot charisma I’m not sure why he’s releasing his own music, except Brave New Music Economy etc.

Also out recently:

Juan Gabriel – Mis 40 En Bellas Artes Partes 1 & 2 (Fonovisa)

Various – Lo Mejor de lo Mejor 2014 (Sony), a general “Latin” compilation of interest for its Gerardo Ortiz tokenism — he’s the only regional Mexican performer included, further moving into that Jenni Rivera role. (They’ve both judged on TTMT, too.)

Los Cadetes De Linares & Los Invasores De Nuevo Leon – Mano a Mano (BMC), one of those split CDs that appear frequently in this genre, here confirming that the BMC label does actually exist.

Los Inquietos Del Norte – “No Dudes De Mi”, lachrymose violin balladry from a band that can be much more hyphy, even if they refuse the term. (There’ll be a hyphy thinkpiece up here soon, promise.)



At PopMatters, I wrote 1,000 words about this solid career overview that someone else, somewhere, must care about:

Diana Reyes – Mis Mejores Duranguenses (DR Promotions)

In the title of her new career retrospective, Diana Reyes unapologetically invokes the “d” word. The album’s called Mis Mejores Duranguenses, a perfectly accurate title that nonetheless situates Reyes in a previous decade, out of vogue in today’s Mexican music world. But despite its nostalgic aura, that word, that genre—duranguense—is integral to what makes Reyes such a vital singer. Like Donna Summer, forever tied to a different dance music “d” word, Reyes transcends the style that made her transcendence possible.

For the past few years, being a duranguense fan in the norteño world has felt like being a scorpion set loose at a Sierra Club meeting. Everyone runs away when they see you coming, but once they’re safely across the room, they talk about you with condescending pity and acknowledge your Vital Role. Springing from the state of Durango and its satellite city Chicago around 2002-04, duranguense was, for a few years, the hot sound of regional Mexican music. That sound was a pared down take on banda with synth oompahs, ultra-speedy tempos, unhinged tambora (a bass drum with cymbals on top) acting like a lead instrument, and a ridiculous dance step all its own. Dancing el pasito duranguense was like “having gum stuck [on] the bottom of your shoe and trying to get it off,” explained dancer Jaime Barraza to the radio show “The World”.

By decade’s end, the genre itself had become stuck. Thanks to band infighting, legal wrangles, and the winds of popularity shifting from Durango to Sinaloa’s bandas and corridos, duranguense’s popularity dwindled. Maybe not down to the level of used chewing gum—recent videos by genre stalwarts Grupo Montéz and Alacranes Musical still command around a million hits apiece—but pretty far. Far enough that the annual Radio Éxitos compilation, which used to be one third duranguense, now shuns the genre. Even Los Horóscopos de Durango jumped ship; the band has sold its keyboards and bought tubas, and now it plays banda sinaloense.

Born in Baja California, with family from Sinaloa, Diana Reyes began her singing career recording traditional norteño. In 2004 she hopped aboard the Durango bandwagon and released six or seven albums for labels both major and minor, including DBC, the label she founded. To give you an idea how bankable this stuff was, that “or seventh” album was a Christmas record for Universal, Navidad Duranguense. She wasn’t alone. During those gold rush years, at least three other bands released Christmas albums with the same title.

Reyes was a welcome presence in the genre. Her husky voice was a powerhouse, and she could fray it at exactly the right emotional high points. Though you’d sometimes catch her chuckling, she sang with a gravitas that gave counterweight to her skippety-skip music. Look, let’s put our duranguense cards on the table. Lots of people hated this style and called it ridiculous circus music. They had a point. Most duranguense acts sounded like they were vying for Chintziest Synth Sound at the county fair. To overcome that handicap, musicians either had to own the chintz and become the wildest band in town and maybe cover “The Night Chicago Died”, like the sainted clowns in Banda Lamento Show, or they had to use their genre trappings to make perfect pop songs, like Diana Reyes.

At her best, Reyes achieved what Hi-NRG singers like Laura Branigan and Exposé did in their own genres: heartbreaking melodic lines belted over beats of endless momentum. Since Reyes’s beats were mostly polkas, the 20 songs on Mis Mejores might take some getting used to. After a few songs, though, the oompah is so consistent it falls away, and you’re left with the tune and the unpredictable clatter of percussion, clarinet, and bargain basement synth presets (yikes) popping out like the cast of Laugh In. In Reyes’s two biggest hits, 2004’s “Rosas” and 2007’s “Cuando Baja La Marea”, the band is so tight the players could be on autopilot, but their stop-on-a-dime breaks and complicated fills reveal otherwise. The melody to “Marea” takes advantage of the polka’s two-step feel to stretch and contract its phrase lengths like taffy. 2005’s “Mentiras” pulls the same trick. No longer tethered to predictable four-bar phrases, these melodies are free to start earlier than you expect, or extend longer than normal, giving them an emotional weightlessness. “Forget the beat,” Reyes and the melody say, “this is how I feel.”

What she feels is mostly sad, and then angry about the sadness. 2009’s album ¡Vamos a Bailar! opened not with an exhortation to dance, but with the post-breakup pine “¿Dónde Están?” A sub-Winwood keyboard fart reminds you this is a duranguense song. Reyes establishes the breakup in a thick purr, but once she hits the chorus, she and the snare drummer belt you with that string of questions: where are all those letters and flowers and visits and kisses? Our bodies, the ones that used to be close to one another—where are they? Turn your attention from Reyes to the band, and you’ll realize the keyboards and woodwinds are still going, but they no longer sound cheesy. They’re simply adding to the bedlam.

In 2010 Reyes released her best album, Amame Besame, through Capitol Records. Half-duranguense, half-techno cumbia, and all exquisitely produced, it effectively marked the end of duranguense not just for Reyes but for regional Mexican music in general. Apart from duranguense Reyes has been less exciting. Her 2011 roots album Ajustando Cuentas took on traditional banda. Her voice sounded spectacular, but the banda arrangements were too perfect—they were there to showcase her, not to be her sparring partners. Most recently, Reyes released a power ballad telenovela theme, “Yo No Creo En Los Hombres.” (Hey, me neither.) I won’t vouch for the song, whose horns read more “‘80s Chicago” than any horn-based music you’d actually wanna hear wafting from our fair city, but her voice remains a powerhouse. As for this new hits album, you’d think 20 straight duranguenses would be too many. And while some variety would be nice, the beats never quit, the new romantic melodies never flag, and the instrumentalists never stop finding new ways to go apeshit. Plus, Reyes’s voice might make people nostalgic for a time when they could reliably hear women’s voices on regional Mexican radio. Let’s hope so.

Banda Lamento Show: Chicago Vive Otra Vez

banda lamento show

The invaluable if annoyingly pop-uppy radioNOTAS alerts me to the existence of a new song, “El Señor,” by Banda Lamento Show de Durango. (I also see they’re playing Waukegan late this Saturday night, roughly a mile south of the church where I play early Sunday morning — i.e., I can’t see them. Have a good time and tell ’em I say hi.) Lamento Show, you’ll remember, were the wildest of duranguense bands and also the happiest, wearing ironic hipster ponchos and hauling around a little boy on a burro for their mascot. Unlike some of the buttoned down heartachers in this genre, listening to Lamento Show felt like getting away with something. True story: when I called their label nine years ago looking for press photos, the PR person I spoke with had no idea who they were.

When you get a chance, listen to their 2005 Platino album La Noche Que Murio Chicago, named after the Paper Lace song covered therein. This album is our generation’s Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes: canned crowd noises, nonstop dance songs running one into the other, and a feeling that, despite the songs’ apparent simplicity on paper, the players can do whatever they want and anything could happen. By comparison, “El Señor” is reined in, but whoever’s singing enjoys his swanky vibrato enough to give it a big

Album Review: AMAME, BESAME by Diana Reyes

amame besame

Since Diana Reyes is repackaging and re-releasing her music, I’ll do the same with my writing. Here’s an unpublished review of her really good 2010 album:

Diana Reyes
Ámame, Bésame
(EMI Latin 2010)

Diana Reyes has been making good albums for years, but Ámame, Bésame (“Love Me, Kiss Me”) is an explosion of color and energy like nothing else in her catalogue. It’s also a breakthrough for duranguense, the Chicago-based techno-polka style that five years ago threatened to take over regional Mexican radio. Back then, Reyes pulled one of the most effective genre switcheroos in Latin pop history, when she left her native norteño music for duranguense. Reyes was so confident about this career move, she titled her first album in the new genre La Reina del Pasito Duranguense (“The Queen of the Duranguense Dance Step”). Just to make certain nobody argued, she sang the hell out of her songs and grew her fingernails to a frightening length.

Duranguense’s impact has since cooled, thanks to scene infighting and the fickle winds of public taste. Maybe that’s why Ámame, Bésame alternates its polkas with more pop-wise techno cumbias, in the tradition of A.B. Quintanilla’s Kumbia All-Starz. Reyes even covers a couple songs by Quintanilla’s late sister, Selena, and works with his production associate, Luigi Giraldo. Giraldo has assembled a crack band for his songs, and his arrangements really sparkle. When you hear how the accordion switches from outlining the melody to playing riffs, or how the strategically placed laser FX chirp away in the background, you can tell how much care he’s lavished on this music.

Of course, such sonic tchotchkes are par for the course with most pop music. Reyes’s stunning achievement is that she now gets that same bold, detailed sound with her duranguense producers. If Reyes’s previous four duranguense albums were good, they also sounded a little thinner, as though they were made on a much lower budget. Indeed, that’s been the case with lots of duranguense music. For this album Reyes’s Chicago producers, the Orwellian-sounding “The Team, Inc.”, have really amped up the energy. The polkas are faster and louder. Where Reyes’s backing band once sounded anonymous, they now clatter away on tambora and provide wild electronic tuba fills. With their madcap woodwind lines and beat changes, these polkas resemble Carl Stalling’s orchestra performing Europop songs during Oktoberfest. Which isn’t to say it’s ALL louder — the background keyboards that once popped garishly out of the mix have been replaced by softer, subtler synths. What it all adds up to is increased professionalism and, I assume, a higher recording budget courtesy EMI, Reyes’s new label.

Here’s what hasn’t changed: Reyes still sings the hell out of her songs. Whether she’s singing songs written specifically for her, or covering Selena or Lupita d’Alessio (a balladeer and telenovela actress), Reyes delivers each tune with enough full-throated conviction to completely command her arrangements. Her clear tone and phrasing keep her free from syrupy melodrama, but her voice is laced with a magical huskiness that hints at some hidden pain or experience. You sense she knows more than she’s willing to reveal in the song. In the sinister “Ten Mucho Cuidado” (“Be Very Careful”), which sounds like sped-up Ace of Base + accordion, Reyes switches from quick, matter-of-fact tongue twisting to a soaring world weariness. Her song-picking ability is uncannily good, but this woman would sound great even if someone made her sing an album of Ariel Pink covers.

Thankfully it hasn’t come to that. This is the best-sounding duranguense — or, I guess, semi-duranguense — album I’ve heard. It’s bursting with catchy pop songs and full arrangements that allow them to flourish. Ámame, Bésame ends with a polka version of the title track, replete with a whistle doubling the melody, haphazard organ fills, electronic squelches, and what sounds like EVERY OTHER MUSICAL INSTRUMENT that The Team, Inc. could dig out of their Memory Hole. It’s as though they realized that, after revolutionizing the sound of the duranguense genre, they should send us out with as big a bang as possible. Explosion accomplished.


diana reyes

Being a duranguense fan has lately felt like being a scorpion at a Sierra Club meeting — everyone runs away when they see you coming, but once they’re safely across the room, they talk about you with condescending pity and acknowledge your vital role. Hence the new compilation from Diana Reyes, Mis Mejores Duranguenses, a promising overview of an important career. Back in ‘04-’05, Chicago duranguense music was the hot sound of norteño, a pared down take on banda with synth horns, faster tempos, unhinged tambora, and a ridiculous dance step all its own. Born in Baja California, with family from Sinaloa, Reyes began her career recording traditional norteño but hopped aboard the Durango bandwagon and released several albums for different labels, including her own DBC. To give you an idea of how bankable this stuff was, her third album for Musimex/Universal was a Christmas album, Navidad Duranguense.

In 2010 Reyes released her best album, Amame Besame, through Capitol Records — back on the majors! Half duranguense, half techno corrido, and all exquisitely produced, it effectively marked the end of duranguense not just for Reyes but for regional Mexican music in general. Former heavy hitters like Grupo Montéz and Alacranes Musical have seen their popularity dwindle and their sound give way to banda pop. (That new Alacranes song, which I shouldn’t in good conscience endorse because the linked video promotes cockfighting, sounds rad.) Los Horóscopos de Durango just up and went banda. Reyes herself returned to norteño for an underwhelming 2011 album, and recently released this power ballad telenovela theme, “Yo No Creo En Los Hombres.” (Hey, me neither.) I won’t vouch for the song, whose horns read more “‘80s Chicago” than any horn-based music you’d actually wanna hear wafting from our fair city, but her husky vibrato remains a powerhouse. As for this new hits album, 20 straight duranguenses will be too many, but Reyes sang them as well as anyone. Aside from making lots of pretty, clattery pop, her music might make lots of people nostalgic for a time when they could reliably hear women’s voices on regional Mexican radio. Let’s hope so.

Also new this week:

Senzu-Rah from singer-songwriter Regulo Caro, whose album last year trafficked in off-kilter songwriting experiments and character studies, while still digging deep into corridos;

Así Te Quiero Yo from Banda Tierra Sagrada, who, if they don’t get sucked into a sarlacc pit of samey banda ballads, might deliver more energetic bad-boy anthems like the album’s lead single “Soy Un Desmadre”;

and a new live comp from Pesado, which’ll probably turn out to be a couple hours of mildly pleasant stodge that you either already own in some other form, or never need to hear again.

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