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Fiesta Tercer Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK

alfredo olivas wary

Welcome to NorteñoBlog’s fourth year! As I survey the previous twelve months of radness, several themes emerge:

fantasmaSierreño is no longer a novelty. The guitar + tuba-or-bass style is now as prevalent as its country cousins, banda and accordion-based norteño. Although the style has existed for decades, you can trace its popularity back to the 2015 death of young singer-guitarist Ariel Camacho, which cemented sierreño as both young people’s music and a vehicle for pop hits. Two Camacho-related bands — Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho and Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes — appear below, as do established norteño/banda stars Gerardo Ortiz and Remmy Valenzuela, jumping on the sierreño bandwagon with corridos and romantic ballads. One of the year’s biggest breakout stars, man-myth-legend El Fantasma, scored a long charting hit with the guitar corrido “Mi 45,” in the process becoming one of California’s most streamed Latin artists.

comere calladoGerardo Ortiz continues to dominate. You wouldn’t know it by looking at his album sales, but artistically, nobody in the genre had a better 2017. His sierreño-biting Comeré Callado album was a rebound from 2015’s disappointing Hoy Más Fuerte, with better songs and typically stunning band interplay. He was also featured on excellent norteño and bachata singles (see below), and notably did not release any videos showing him murdering women. I only accomplished one of those things.

La-Nueva-Onda-Norteña-V-Hell-Yea-2017-500x500Like Civil War reenactments and teen slasher movies, puro sax music will never die. The jaunty norteño subgenre, whose songs definitely do not all sound the same, continues to do several things well. It’s an excellent accompaniment to doing chores. Like freestyle, it pits bouncy uptempo music against bereft emo lyrics, to the benefit of both. And it pulls all kinds of other stuff — notably the huapango folk dance and alt-rockers Caifanes (see below) — into its deranged but happy orbit.

christian-nodalI wish I liked mariacheño and socially conscious corridos more than I do. Christian Nodal released an excellent, career-defining debut single, “Adios Amor,” and then followed it up with a boring but well-reviewed mariachi album. Calibre 50 released a heartfelt sigh of an immigration story, “Corrido de Juanito,” that meant a lot to some very smart people. Given the choice, though, I’d rather listen to the parade of reprehensible narcocorridos scattered below. Bands like La Nueva Rebelión draw swaggering energy from their illicit subject matter, turning narco music into a thrilling and paradoxically life-affirming force. Not that musicians can’t walk and chew gum at once — last year especially,
El Komander succeeded with both kinds of stories.

la villarrealWhere are all the women? I’m sorry to say, this is one area where the Blog seems to be getting worse, not better, and I’m not sure if it’s my fault or the industry’s. This year the Blog enjoyed singles by Alicia Villarreal (her album La Villarreal is way better mariachi pop than Nodal’s), Lucero, Diana Reyes, and Chiquis Rivera, but didn’t Pick to Click them, simply because there was better stuff those particular weeks. The latest countrified album from blog fave Laura Denisse was more of a chore than her last one, although it may be growing on me (and I just saw she has a Christmas album! Must research…). Los Horóscopos have been MIA lately. As Victoria ‘La Mala’ has pointed out, Mexican regional music remains a man’s world — the sheer amount of music produced by men overwhelms that of the women. That said, the year’s most exciting new voice belonged to Ángela Aguliar, who showed rich confidence on two wonderful duets with her father Pepe. (See below.)

Anyway, here they are: the past year’s worth of Picks to Click. Thanks for reading, and happy listening!

11/17/16: “Que Perrón” by La Séptima Banda
A big dumb cumbia ode to the modern world’s sexually assertive mujeres. As you might expect, such mujeres make La Séptima Banda very happy, especially the dude in the middle of the song who sheepishly admits, “I’m ugly.”

12/2/16: “Traigo Ganas de Pistiar” by Escuela de Rancho, Los Orejones de la Sierra, y La Bandeña
It scarcely matters what the song “Traigo Ganas” is about. I mean, I know it’s about getting drunk — the song opens with the sound of cans being cracked open, and anyway, I’m sure you’ve met low brass players — but what matters is the stupendous way this makeshift octo-quin-trio makes you feel all giddy and swivelly by jumping from one part of the song to the next.
Continue reading “Fiesta Tercer Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK”

2017 Albums: Guitarras de la Sierra

Never a company to let a good trend go uncompiled, the beneveolent Fonovisa corporation has recently released Guitarras de la Sierra, a collection of songs from young sierreño trios — two guitars, plus either a tuba or bass holding down the bottom end. Las guitarras have been rocking la Sierra forever — NorteñoBlog has previously delved into the career of Breaking Bad corrideros Los Cuates, for instance, and several older comps called Guitarras de la Sierra exist, featuring guys like Miguel y Miguel and various iterations of Los Alegres. The differences, in our brave new post-Ariel Camacho world, are threefold:

1. The lineup of guitars plus tubas, without an accordion or drums, now constitutes a reliable hitmaking combination, not just on the radio but online;

2. This means you’re gonna hear more romantic sierreño songs than you would have in previous generations; and,

3. Sierreño musicians are more likely not just to be young men — Los Cuates started playing when they were only 14, after all — but to sing like young men; and specifically, like young pop stars, rather than salt-of-the-earth gallos who grew up on the ranch. In other words, not just musical idols who appeal to teens, but bona fide Teen Idols.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, compare Los Cuates’ first top 40 hit, “Me Haces Falta,” with a song from the latest Guitarras comp, Crecer Germán’s YouTube hit “Lo Que Te Amo.” Los Cuates’ hit, recorded in their mid-20s, marked a gradual departure from their guitar and bass lineup: Gabriel Berrelleza was playing an accordion by this point, and they’d recently replaced their bass with a tuba. “Me Haces” was a skippily bereft lost love single, but with its delamatory melody and I-IV-V chords, it could have been a corrido with different lyrics:

But there’s no mistaking the subject matter of Germán’s song. Even without having the lyrics in front of you, you can tell this is a young man deep in the shit of romantic bereftitude. We know this because something in his tone screams “teenager in love” — he strains for emotional affect without having the vocal chops to get there. Couple this with the wandering melody, the minor chords in the progression, the brief but keening melismas, and you’ve got the commercial face of sierreño guitars 2017:

Is that all there is to the style? Of course not. Germán first sang corridos and love songs with his former band Alta Consigna, and in an entertaining attempt to be puro raza or something, he’s released a “Deluxe Edition” of his snoozy romantic 2016 album Hombre Afortunado (Fonovisa). Besides “Lo Que Te Amo,” the expanded edition contains a whole bunch of tributes to real-life narcos: “El Chapo,” “El Ingeniero,” “Kikil Caro,” etc. Not surprisingly, these songs are a whole lot more fun than the first, original half of the album, which was all about love. They’re faster, the requinto-tuba interplay is swinging, and Germán’s immature singing is much better suited to flat yellow journalism than to florid purple poetry. If the expansion was available on its own, it’d be an easy VALE LA PENA. But what am I saying? It’s 2017. You have the internet. Make whatever Crecer Germán album you want.

No such qualifications are necessary for the VALE LA PENA fourth studio album from Jesús Ojeda y Sus Parientes, El Amigo de Todos (Fonovisa — all these albums are on Fonovisa). Ojeda currently has a radio hit with the ballad “No Es un Juego,” inluded on the Guitarras comp. Relevant to point 3 above, its video is partially set in a Mexican high school, depicting a romance between two fresh-faced hetero cuties; Ojeda and his rhythm guitarist are the only ones in the video wearing cowboy hats. Written by the ubiquitous Joss Favela, “Juego” is the slowest song on Ojeda’s album, which is otherwise the most fun you’ll have pretending to be in the Sierra this year.

Sierreño albums can suffer from the saminess of folk records — after all, there’s only three instruments and no drums, and chord selection tends to be limited. Ojeda and his Parientes get around this problem by speeding up and complicating their rhythms, and by adding some inspired high harmonies. As a lead guitarist, Ojeda seems to have read and digested the “Stubbornness and the Single Note” chapter of Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever — he comes out of choruses obsessively bearing down on one repeated note until it bleeds, no doubt goosing audiences into raging ecstasy. If the Parientes remind me of any folk trio, it’s prime Kingston Trio, just sheer musical pleasure from top to bottom. Here they are playing their Mini Lic corrido “El Piñata,” today’s Pick to Click. (The licks are anything but mini, amirite?)

Continue reading “2017 Albums: Guitarras de la Sierra”

Parade (Desfile de Éxitos 4/30/16)

huracanes-del-norte-estrenan-video
Life could be so nice…

Controversy over Gerardo Ortiz‘s “Fuiste Mia” video continues this week, as it returns to YouTube in a version designed to make you and your computer blue. The video, you’ll recall, opens with a scene of Sr. Ortiz and the most beautiful girl in the world sharing a kiss in the shower, getting soft and wet 2gether. In the next scene, Ortiz catches her starting to work it with another man, asks the eternal question “Why you wanna treat me so bad?”, and shoots that dude in the head atop the bed, leaving him dead on it. The video ends with the beautiful ones on the outs, Ortiz shoving her into the trunk of his sporty little automatic, and, tick tick bang, blowing her up. Scandalous! This time, in a delirious attempt to make the video less dark, the action is obscured by a big “Gerardo Ortiz” logo that refuses to gett off the screen, but all these plot points remain plain as Morris Day.

Arguments for and against the video have gone round and round. Critics, seeing in this video a sign ‘o’ the times, have accused Ortiz of exploiting Mexico’s chaos and disorder, and treating glibly the country’s violence against women. In a press conference, Ortiz countered with the “baby I’m a star” defense — he’s only acting, the video is pure fiction, and it’s his job to push the envelope to the max. Cynics might note that the song itself is a standard “when you were mine” love song — it’s fine but not exactly jam of the year — and that this arbitrary video is a mismatch for the song’s style. As a publicity move, the video is an undisputed, if underwhelming, success: the new “Fuiste Mia” video has racked up 1.6 million views and last week hit #20 on the ladder of the Latin pop life, Billboard‘s Hot Latin chart. This week it drops to a new position at #30. (Ortiz’s other chart hit this week, “¿Por Qué Terminamos?”, peaked at 7.)

jesus ojedaElsewhere, Jesús Ojeda drops to #42 with his own video wet dream. Songwriter Jesús Sauceda — who assures me via emale that he is NOT Jesús Ojeda, 3121 online bios to the contrary — enters at #47 with Los Huracanes’ “Amarte Es Hermoso.” Los Titanes‘ previous Pick to Click “Rumbo a Maza” — remember? the one where they get caught speeding jesus saucedain their little red white Corvette but then talk their way out of the ticket and go free? — holds steady at #49. If you’re anxious for a new chart entry worthy of NorteñoBlog’s coveted Pick to Click status, we’re still waiting for someone to release it. Trust me, I feel for you.

(Adios, you sexy mf; te amo corazón.) Continue reading “Parade (Desfile de Éxitos 4/30/16)”

The John Mayers We’ve Been Looking For (Desfile de Éxitos 2/20/16)

roberto tapia

Tomen nota: Regional Mexican’s hot streak in the top 25 wanes this week, with Recodo, Séptima, Chuy Lizarraga, and Ariel Camacho‘s “Te Metiste” dropping off the Hot Latin chart. Banda and norteño acts hold down less than half the chart with 11 of the top 25 spots. The nuevo-Sierreño strums of Los Plebes del Rancho occupy two of those with a couple unlikely hits: a love song from 2014 and a new corrido about the head of their record label. If you’re keeping track at home, this extends Ariel Camacho’s death bump to almost a year.

But Los Plebes aren’t the only guitar heroes to chart this week. “Tomen Nota,” the duet between honey-voiced Adriel Favela and photogenic Sierreño badasses Los Del Arroyo, is threatening to take both acts into new territory: the Hot Latin top 20. This is partly thanks to the eye-catching video, in which our watch-enthusiast anti-heroes use their pistols to turn an everyday game of billiards into BUMPER POOL. On the other hand, said video came out last May, which gave it plenty of time to stream its way onto Hot Latin. I’m guessing the previous Pick to Click is hitting now because its increased radio presence, currently #9 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart, is in turn driving even more streams. ¡Sinergia! Continue reading “The John Mayers We’ve Been Looking For (Desfile de Éxitos 2/20/16)”

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