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Los Cuates de Sinaloa

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”

Guitars, WhatsApp, and San Juditas Medallions

martin castillo big

UPDATE: Never mind what I wrote below, Gusttavo Lima’s “Balada” was a hit in the U.S. too.

martin castilloWhen NorteñoBlog last caught up with the prolific drummer-corridero Martin Castillo, he was philosophizing somewhat threateningly over rippling guitars and tubas. This hasn’t changed on his new album La Historia de Mi Vida (Gerencia 360/Sony). Castillo enjoys portraying the tough narco who takes wounded pride in his work and life, wearing a San Juditas medallion on his chest to show the world what a martyr he is. His lovely single “De Compadre a Compadre” is a dead homies song that, chord-wise, recalls Gerardo Ortiz’s equally elegiac “Archivos de Mi Vida.” Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Guitars, WhatsApp, and San Juditas Medallions”

Top 5 W.T.F. Corrido Moments!

gucci el chapo

5) Omar Ruiz performs “El Americano” for George Jung

For an American to get his own narcocorrido is rare in itself. For George Jung, the infamous drug trafficker, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine him being worthy of one — after all, the man already had a movie made based on his life. He’s an individual that I’m sure has lived through some surreal moments. So I can only imagine what was going through his head when he ran into the young up-and-coming artist Omar Ruiz. (Although by the looks of it, it was most likely a planned meeting.)

The video shows an attentive if somewhat confused Jung trying to understand the corrido being sung to him about his own life… in Spanish, of course. At one point he lights a cigarette. Perhaps he was getting bored but I’d like to think he was just taking it all in. By the end of the song, it becomes apparent that Jung did indeed appreciate the song, describing it as beautiful.

Continue reading “Top 5 W.T.F. Corrido Moments!”

¡Nuevo! (starring Mariachi Divas, Duelo, y más)

valeymargarita410

mariachi divasNorteñoBlog has never been confused about the popularity of Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea among Grammy voters. They’re a talented group of women playing a style traditionally dominated by men — though not, let’s face it, as traditionally dominated as norteño or banda — making them a safe and progressive choice for voters with only a passing knowledge of the genre. That whiff of the “progressive” extends to their music, which boasts sophisticated arrangements that sometimes change tempos or cover non-mariachi songs. In other words, they’re progressive in the somewhat tortured sense of most genre progressives: “elevating” a style that doesn’t need elevating and appealing to people who don’t normally enjoy the style. Their Disney gig hasn’t hurt their profile, either. (“We particularly enjoy the Divas’ rendition of ‘It’s a Small World,'” says a travel site.) Their new album La Cima Del Cielo (East Side) sparkles and shines with the cheer of a sweaty theme park employee dressed up like a princess. They cover Linda Ronstadt’s “Lago Azul.”

dueloNo stranger to the “progressive” tag, the norteño-pop band Duelo is back, reliably charting high with their Intocablish new album Veneno (La Bonita). The title single levels insults at a heartless, icy, poisonous, murderous, dream-killing (SHALL WE GO ON?) mujer with unchecked midtempo momentum. Good riff, though I wish they sounded remotely venomous.

margarita la diosaA tad more interesting is Margarita “La Diosa de la Cumbia,” who, along with the dude from Bacilos, sang the theme song for La Fea Más Bella, the novela remake that’d go on to become Ugly Betty in its U.S. incarnation. (This title sequence seems to take up an entire episode.) Her new album Sin Fronteras (Warner) is part cumbia, part feel-good pop/rock with nods to modern salsa, not unlike Bacilos. The single “Te Di Todo” could introduce a novela remake of Beverly Hills 90210.

los cuates se acabaronBreaking Bad‘s favorite corridistas (and NorteñoBlog research project) Los Cuates de Sinaloa are back to their original trio format, guitar-guitar-bass, on Se Acabaron las Caricias (Los Cuates de Sinaloa), which unfortunately doesn’t seem to have any videos yet. It’s well worth streaming, though. Second song “Que Bonita Chica” sounds especially great, with effortless bounce and unadorned groove. Likely VALE LA PENA.

los inquietosFormer hyphy/not-hyphy scenesters Los Inquietos Del Norte are back with another super-serious country song, “Como Perro Amarrado” (Eagle). Though less twee than Tierra Cali’s song of the same name, it’s nowhere near as good as Jamey Johnson’s song of the same sentiment, which somehow made emasculation sound badass. Los Inquietos just sound defeated, though if Sr. Meza ever tires of singing norteño, some fine operatic roles await him — sad clowns and all that.

Los Cuates de Sinaloa: Una Cartilla

cuates breaking bad

Inspired by one of top commenter Manuel’s karaoke jams, here’s a short history of Breaking Bad‘s favorite corridistas, the band Allmusic calls “as gritty and dramatic as one of their songs”: LOS CUATES DE SINALOA. But first, the karaoke jam in question, 2010´s “El Alamo,” a jaunty and repetitive take on a little three-note motive.

The song features accordion, not always a given with Los Cuates, who started out with just two guitarists and a bassist. Well, technically they started with just two guitarists…

1998: Two 14-year-old guitar-playing cousins from Sinaloa, Nano y Gabriel Berrelleza, cross the border from Mexico into Arizona. After living homeless and busking for a couple months, one day they show up at a Phoenix nightclub owned by musician José Juan Segura. Segura tells Billboard,

Continue reading “Los Cuates de Sinaloa: Una Cartilla”

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