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Natalia Jiménez

¡Feliz 2016! (y ¡Lo Mejor de 2015!)

2016-copia

Regional Mexican music had as good a year in 2015 as any other style of popular music, but you wouldn’t know it from any music magazine’s year-end coverage. This Mexican-American radio format is only one small musical laboratory within the vast complex of U.S. pop; but figured by their percentages, norteño, banda, cumbia, and Tejano bands released as many great, vibrant singles and albums as their peers in other popular music subgenres. Yet good luck finding this music on year-end lists. Even at Billboard, which provides the best English-language coverage of Mexican music, the list of Top 10 Latin Albums contains only one (very good) regional Mexican album, which came out in 2014. None of the magazine’s Top 10 Latin Songs represent Mexican regional styles. (Shoutout to the New York Times’ Ben Ratliff, though, for getting Remmy Valenzuela’s “¿Por Qué Me Ilusionaste?” into the paper of record.) And never mind year-end coverage — this fun, fascinating music rarely gets covered throughout the year in mainstream publications, although NPR and Annie Correal in the Times are notable exceptions. As is The Singles Jukebox, where Josh writes and where the editors and writers share an expansive definition of “pop.”

This is pop music, dammit! MILLIONS OF AMERICANS LISTEN TO IT.

(An appropriate YouTube playlist to accompany that claim.) Continue reading “¡Feliz 2016! (y ¡Lo Mejor de 2015!)”

Lo Mejor de 2015: Roberto Tapia, Ariel Camacho, and Natalia Jiménez

natalia jimenez

A TV judge, narcocorridero, and all around country dude gone mainstream, Roberto Tapia has sung backbeat banda before on “Mirando El Cielo” and “Me Enamoré”, two of the decade’s catchiest earworms. (No lie, my kids hate on banda but they were seat dancing the first time they heard “Mirando” on the radio.) He goes a different route on Diferente (Fonovisa), corralling an excellent banda into 10 jumpy arrangements of merciless invention. “Soy Diferente” is a lightning waltz that transforms into an even faster polka, the murmuring brass leaving plenty of space for Tapia’s voice. Lead single “No Valoraste” marches in a stately manner, allowing Tapia to kiss off his ex with tongue-in-cheek decorum. “Dónde Estarás” flirts with bachata; “Besos” lets Tapia sing over just drums and tuba, then interrupts him with jarring tutti passages. In every horn chart you can hear the arrangers cackling with glee.

The last time I heard a tuba take the lead in a love song was in Scoring and Arranging class, when someone gave the low brass a verse of “Wonderful Tonight” for laughs. Decorating the haunting melody of “Te Metiste” (DEL/Sony) like finely wrought iron, Omar Burgos’s sousaphone trades off fills with the late Ariel Camacho’s requinto guitar, and the results are stately and moving.

Natalia Jiménez’s “Quedate Con Ella” (Sony) is irresistible breakup pop that owes as much to ABBA as it does to the mariachi music it streamlines — which makes sense, since Jiménez started off in the trans-Atlantic pop group La 5ª Estación.

Fiesta de Aniversario: THE PICKS TO CLICK

gerardo birthday

NorteñoBlog doesn’t always Pick to Click, but when I do… sometimes I get it wrong and type “Click to Pick.” This made searching for the previous year’s worth of Picks INTERESANTE.

The Pick to Click began as a shameless ripoff from Charles Pierce’s must-read liberal politics blog at Esquire, as did a couple other, possibly subtler NorteñoBlog tics. (Spot them all! Both! Whatever!) It’s a useful way to highlight the song I enjoy the most in a particular post, so that you the loyal reader don’t have to wade through a pool of Banda MS’s tears to reach the good stuff. Of course, if you enjoy the delectable bouquet wafting from Banda MS’s tears, you can always Click what I don’t Pick, though you’ll run the risk of turning Banda MS happy and then they might run out of Art. Besides current singles, the following list includes some older singles and current album tracks.

Most Picked at three apiece: NorteñoBlog’s probable artists of the year Alfredo Ríos “El Komander” and Marco Flores y #1 Banda Jerez. Banda Cuisillos, Noel Torres, and Chuy Lizárraga each scored two Picks. So did Los Gfez, Pancho Uresti, and Ariel Camacho, though one Pick from each of those three was in a “featured” role. Besides norteño and banda, the list includes cumbias and puro sax stomps, reggaeton and ABBA-schlager, Jenny and the Mexicats and Pitbull, and covers of Johnny Cash and — first up — Shania Twain. Happy Clicking!
Continue reading “Fiesta de Aniversario: THE PICKS TO CLICK”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2015: Enero – Marzo

marco flores

As you listen to this Youtube playlist, imagine a Regional Mexican station that plays not just regional styles, but disco-fied international variations on those styles. Weirdly enough, the disco-mariachi songs here, while great, are far from the most danceable songs on the list. If you don’t believe me, check out the top video, where Marco Flores and his band create a barrage of anarchic polka moves, including Hiding Behind the Congas, for their banda-fied take on the Zacatecas state’s tamborazo music. Colmillo Norteño aren’t quite as terpsichorially ambitious with the waltz at #2, but they’ve still got moves.

You could call these the year’s best regional Mexican singles, but there’s a catch. “Regional Mexican” here includes Mexicans and non-Mexicans playing their takes on regional styles — norteño, banda, mariachi, and cumbia (not native to Mexico, but nation and format have embraced it), along with minor styles like Tejano, tierra caliente, and duranguense, if we’d found any. It doesn’t include Mexicans playing pop, although most of these songs register for listeners as pop songs. It also doesn’t include any Latinos playing reggaeton, bachata, or salsa, though NorteñoBlog broke that rule last year when Gerardo Ortiz released a full-throated bachata song.

Maybe not so weirdly, this list’s Venn diagram circle for “international interlopers” — Natalia Jiménez, Rocio Quiroz, Jenny and the Mexicats, and Shalia Dúrcal — overlaps perfectly with the circle for “women.” It’s not that women can’t make great music that’s puro Mexicano; after all, we’re observing the 20th anniversary of Selena’s death, the 10th anniversary of Yolanda Perez’s fantastic Esto Es Amor album, and also check out NorteñoBlog’s best of 2014 list. But in the recently dominant styles of norteño and banda, the male gaze and traditional, possibly smothering, notions of chivalry predominate. Women in song lyrics often have the upper hand over their hapless male counterparts — see the hilarious video for “Adicto a La Tristeza” — but the hapless males still make most of the music and money. Though she’s not on this list, check out América Sierra’s “Ponte Las Pilas” for a refreshing exception — she also wrote Ortiz’s latest single, “Perdoname” — and keep your eye on her this year. In the meantime…

1. Marco Flores y La Número 1 Banda Jerez“El Pajarito” (Remex)
We’ve admired before the vitality of Marco Flores‘s dance moves and his voice, a gallo-rific crow that cuts through anything in its path. His take on Espinoza Paz’s “El Pajarito” comes in versions both “sin censura” and, presumably, censura.
Mexican radio hit

2. Colmillo Norteño“La Plebona” (Remex)
A demented rapid-fire circus parade waltz — you like those, right?
U.S. radio hit

3. Natalia Jiménez“Quédate Con Ella” (Sony)
Spanish pop star Jiménez shoots for Mexican mariachi and, with the help of Venezuelan producer Motiff, winds up singing a marvelously square ABBA breakup ballad. She’s having more fun breaking up than she did when they were together. She’s Chiquitita with Fernando’s swagger.
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

4. Rocio Quiroz“La De La Paloma” (Ser)
A minor key stomp with its drums slightly off-kilter in that delicious cumbia manner. The guitar tone is like something out of ’80s new wave, and Argentine singer Quiroz sounds great spitting out heartache.
hasn’t charted

5. Alfredo Ríos El Komander“Fuga Pa’ Maza” (Twiins)
Alfredo Ríos El Komander (I guess that’s what we’re calling him now?) continues to fire off charming singles that sound like he wrote them on a napkin and recorded them in the back of the bar. This one makes the theme explicit. It’s a drinking song whose background crowd noises exist as much for their musical energy as their verisimilitude — note how the crowd abruptly shuts up mid-whoop at the end of the song, rather than fading into a jumble of congratulatory high-fives. “Mi vida es pura pura pura borrachera,” Ríos brags, his tuba and requinto (I think) players capering around the bar, spilling everyone’s drinks.
hasn’t charted

6. Grupo Cañaveral ft. Jenny and the Mexicats“Tiene Espinas el Rosal (En Vivo)” (Fonovisa)
Grupo Cañaveral De Humberto Pabón played one of their turn-of-the-millennium cumbias, “Tiene Espinas El Rosal,” in concert. They brought out the little Spanish/Mexican indie band Jenny and the Mexicats to sing it with them. It turns out I’m a sucker for both turn-of-the-millennium cumbias and Jenny and the Mexicats.
Mexican radio hit

7. Shalia Dúrcal“No Me Interesa” (EMI)
The Spanish singer’s latest blends Nashville guitar licks, ranchera horns, and electropulse into something that never peaks but is more compelling for it. Also check out “Has Sido Tú,” a tech-folk-ranchera stomper whose main riff is lifted directly from one of Slash’s solos in “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”
hasn’t charted

8. La Trakalosa de Monterrey ft. Pancho Uresti“Adicto a la Tristeza” (Remex)
It turns out Edwin Luna, lead singer of La Trakalosa de Monterrey, is very convincing portraying un “Adicto a la Tristeza.” It helps that his voice chimes like a throaty bell. Luna’s labelmate and guest singer, Pancho Uresti from Banda Tierra Sagrada, is somewhat less convincing because his voice is scratchy. When the woman in the video spurns his advances, he’ll feel nothing and should be able to pick up pretty easily with someone else. High camp.
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

9. Los Tigres Del Norte“Qué Tal Si Eres Tu” (Fonovisa)
This study in triplets — the musical figure, not the polyzygotic phenomenon — still sounds better every time I hear it. Any other late ’60s bands still going this strong?
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

10. Rosendo Robles“Alterado De Corazon” (Rosendo Robles)
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.
hasn’t charted

11. La Maquinaria Norteña“Si Te Vuelvo a Ver” (Azteca)
A stomping country polka with some puro Chihuahua sax, by way of New Mexico. I want La Maquinaria Norteña’s logo on my windshield.
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

12. Mario “El Cachorro” Delgado“El Rancho” (Garmex)
A sad but swinging protest corrido using chicken farming as a parable about Mexican kidnapping violence, I think. The simple tune is appealing enough, but check out the interplay between bass, guitar, and requinto, alternately locking in together and tugging at the rhythm with passages of loose virtuosity.
hasn’t charted

13. Alfredo Rios El Komander“Malditas Ganas” (Twiins)
Tossed off kiss-off. The eternally loose Ríos sprechtstimmes and casually mentions “Soy De Rancho,” reminding the woman he can’t forget that nobody can forget him these days, either.
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

14. Diego Herrera ft. Los Gfez“Es Todo Un Placer” (Remex)
One of those norteño quartet-meets-banda mashups the NorteñoBlog loves.
Mexican radio hit

15. Remmy Valenzuela“Mi Princesa” (Fonovisa)
A dextrous accordion hero puts down his axe to sing a banda ballad with more authority than he’s ever sung before, enunciating to las estrellas. Has any guitar hero ever done so well with a guitar-free power ballad?
Mexican and U.S. radio hit

10 more good ones:

Miranda Lambert – “Little Red Wagon” (RCA Nashville)
Los Teke Teke – “Me Dite Duro” (Leo)
Nicki Minaj ft. Drake and Lil Wayne – “Truffle Butter” (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic)
Joey Bada$$ – “No. 99” (Cinematic/Relentless)
Sia – “Elastic Heart” (Monkey Puzzle/RCA)
Susanne Sundfør – “Delirious” (EMI Norway)
One Direction – “Night Changes” (Columbia)
Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen” (300)
Carrie Underwood – “Little Toy Guns” (Sony Nashville)
Victor Manuelle – “Que Suenen Los Tambores” (Sony)

¡Nuevo! (starring Mario Delgado, Gerardo Ortiz, y más)

mario delgado

Julión Álvarez’s new White Album El Aferrado comes out next week, and already Fonovisa is protecting is assets by taking down any version of the lead single, “El Amor de Su Vida,” that leaks to the internet. I’ve seen at least three Youtubes go down since yesterday! That’s how you know it’s gonna be big. The above link seems to be the official Fonovisa audio-with-an-album-cover post; unfortunately, the song’s about as compelling as its static, monochrome “video.” Last year’s album was a breakthrough for Álvarez; it scored three Top 11 singles on the Hot Latin chart and was a NorteñoBlog favorite, making this generic new “Amor” especially disappointing. If this song wasn’t sung by Álvarez — a man who is, by most conservative estimates, the best singer on the continent — it could be any midtempo banda ballad about a lovelorn hombre wooing a buxom mujer.

Speaking of which! Gerardo Ortiz’s new album comes out in May, I think, but for the time being he’s content to keep releasing singles from his career-defining Archivos de Mi Vida. This week it’s “Perdóname,” written by singer-songwriter América Sierra; the song starts slow and boring but livens up once Ortiz strings together endless runs of triplet syllables. This makes it slightly better than Álvarez’s song, which never livens up. A year and a half after the album dropped and Ortiz is still only on his third single! The man knows how to pace himself.

Amid all the flying corazóns, this week’s Pick to Click is a sad but swinging protest corrido using chicken farming as a parable about Mexican kidnapping violence (I think — see the video screenshot above). It’s entitled “El Rancho,” by Mario ‘El Cachorro’ Delgado (Garmex). The simple tune is appealing enough, but check out the interplay between bass, guitar, and requinto, alternately locking in together and tugging at the rhythm with passages of loose virtuosity.

bomba estereoBomba Estéreo doesn’t really fall under NorteñoBlog’s purview, but their new “Fiesta” (Sony) is rat-a-tat-tat electro-cumbia with crazy manipulated voices bouncing all around. And while we’re talking Sony products outside the purview, I should mention the two Natalias: Spain’s Natalia Jiménez, whose album Creo En Mi contains NorteñoBlog fave “Quedate Con Ella” and lots of other dramatic and/or fun pop, at least one song of which features pedal steel (I’m blanking on the title). And then there’s México’s murmury Natalia Lafourcade, beloved of the Singles Jukebox though not necessarily me, with the album Hasta La Raíz. “Mi Lugar Favorito” is fun in an arty go-go boots way — sort of reminds me of Stereolab.

tono lizarragaSomehow I’ve overlooked the January debut of Toño Lizárraga y Su Banda Son de Tambora, Vuelvo a Nacer (Skalona). Based on only a couple songs, we didn’t miss too much, though the video for “Me Pegó la Gana” is entertaining, with Lizárraga’s banda overloading some rowboats as they serenade a remote jungle river.

la juntaFinally in cumbia reissues, the Magenta label has re-released two turn-of-the-millennium albums with extremely cool covers: La Junta’s No Voy a Cambiar

hernana rodriguezand Hernán Rodriguez’s De Película. I’d go with Rodriguez, since his album doesn’t open with a sappy easy listening ballad. His sappy ballad comes in the middle of the album, when you’re ready to fall down or refill your coffee. Plus it has some improbably distorted guitar.

¿Qué Estamos Escuchando? (Grammys, Remmy Valenzuela, Natalia Jiménez)

Vicente Fernandez at Latin Grammy Awards Backstage

NorteñoBlog would like to issue a correction: In the post entitled “Why Do the Grammys Hate Norteño Music?”, I mistakenly referred to Vicente Fernández’s Mano a Mano: Tangos a la Manera de Vicente Fernández as a “tribute album.” It’s not. Rather, the album is what it says it is: ranchera singer Fernández singing tangos in his own style, with lead bandoneon from Raul Vizzi. It’s a likable little album that peaked at #3 on Billboard‘s Regional Mexican Albums chart and #11 on Hot Latin Albums. Sunday it won the Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (including Tejano). Congratulations!

Of course, Mano a Mano represents the current state of regional Mexican music (including Tejano) somewhat less well than Beck’s Album of the Year-winning Morning Phase represents popular music overall. Never mind how Beck stacks up against Beyoncé — at least his album appeared on TV soundtracks and radio, shaping both music conversations and “the sound of 2014.” (Maybe there should be a Grammy category for “Best Soundtrack to a TV Character Having Epiphanies About Life.”) Compared to the list of overall Album of the Year winners, Fernández’s album is closer to Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters — an undeniably well-performed and polite museum piece that everyone can now safely ignore.

Not to be ignored is accordion hero Remmy Valenzuela, singing “Mi Princesa” to a young woman whose tipo just cheated on her at the Orpheum Theater. Remmy saw it all from the stage. We covered the song at The Singles Jukebox, where I wrote:

A dextrous accordion hero puts down his axe to sing a banda ballad with more authority than he’s ever sung before, enunciating to las estrellas. Noel Torres would farm this kind of thing out to the likes of Luciano Luna, norteño’s own Diane Warren figure, but Valenzuela wrote “Princesa” himself and he’s smart about it, intuiting how the brass will clobber the high points in his melody. (I don’t care how fleet his fingers are, this thing would sound thin with just his quartet.) Has any guitar hero ever done so well with a guitar-free power ballad?
[7]

More cheating in Natalia Jiménez’s “Quédate Con Ella,” which the Jukebox liked more. Abby Waysdorf heard schlager; John Seroff and I both heard ABBA, which some days is the same thing. I wrote:

Jiménez shoots for Mexican mariachi and, with the help of Venezuelan producer Motiff, winds up singing a marvelously square ABBA song. “Square,” that is, in its perky chorus beat and tune; devoid of anything resembling R&B, “Quédate” stands out on a Hot Latin chart full of bachata and reggaeton. And “square” in Jiménez’s insistence that the Other Woman play house in every sense of the phrase — iron her ex’s clothes, make his toast, etc. What’s not square is her singing: Jiménez inhabits the song with giggly triumph, just as “Jajaja” into “LOL” is a triumph of Google Translate. She’s having more fun breaking up than she did when they were together. She’s Chiquitita with Fernando’s swagger.
[7]

Desfile De Éxitos 1/10/15

remmy valenzuela

These are the top 25 Hot Latin Songs and top 20 Regional Mexican Songs, courtesy Billboard, as published Jan. 10. Things to note:

The New Year’s hangover chart count for “Propuesta Indecente” increases to 75 weeks. While the Hot Latin top 10 seems etched in stone, 11-25 is more lively, thanks to musical rudeness if not the pace of chart turnover.

It’s been three weeks since we last checked these charts. (¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año!) On Hot Latin we say “adiós” to Ricky Martin’s song of the same name, along with songs by Luis Fonsi and Romeo Santos. (Weep not; Santos still has three others in the top 10.) In Regional Mexican, we bid farewell to Jorge Valenzuela, Los Huracanes, La Maquinaria Norteña, and La Adictiva Banda. But hey! — we sometimes like Banda El Recodo, Arrolladora, and Banda Carnaval, and they’re all here with new tunes of varying likability. So is Julión Álvarez, who’s always welcome, even if he’s brought the most boring song (“Dime”) off his latest album as a hostess gift. “It’s already been a hit in México,” he assures us, trying to impress.

Last week while we were reveling, Gerardo Ortiz’s supple bachata + banda ballad “Eres Una Niña” hit #1 on the Regional Mexican chart. This week it falls to Voz De Mando, but we can still revel. Especially since I finally listened to Remmy Valenzuela’s #18 ballad “Mi Princesa,” and it’s pretty good — cut from the ’50s doo-wop school of romance and sung with high drama. Valenzuela, you’ll remember, is a young fleet-fingered corridista, but he cleans up nice for his princesa.

Finally, Regulo Caro’s irresistible blast of smarm “Soltero Disponible” moves up to Hot Latin at #21. Its opulent, tongue-in-cheek video is sort of like Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” only with more breast bling. “Soltero” was notably the only norteño/banda song to make Leila Cobo’s list of the Best Latin Songs of 2014, which we’ll puzzle over later. (Her albums list contains zero regional Mexican, albeit lots of albums I haven’t heard.)

1. “Bailando” – Enrique ft. Descemer Bueno, Gente de Zona, & the word “contigo”
2. “Propuesta Indecente” – Romeo Santos (I just wanna point out this song is 75 WEEKS OLD, and that maybe someone’s chart methodology needs tweaking.)
3. “Ay Vamos” – J Balvin
4. “Travesuras” – Nicky Jam
5. “Eres Mia” – Romeo Santos
6. “6 AM” – J Balvin ft. Farruko
7. “Odio” – Romeo Santos ft. Drake
8. “Y Asi Fue” – Julión Álvarez (#5 RegMex) (Is this man the best banda singer around right now? Or should we forget the qualifier?)
9. “Eres Una Niña” – Gerardo Ortíz (#2 RegMex)
10. “No Me Pidas Perdon” – Banda MS (#14 Reg Mex)

11. “Qué Tiene De Malo” – Calibre 50 ft. El Komander (#9 RegMex)
12. “Levantando Polvadera” – Voz De Mando (#1 RegMex)
13. “Javier El de Los Llanos” – Calibre 50 (#3 RegMex)
14. “Que Suenen Los Tambores” – Victor Manuelle
15. “Hasta Que Salga el Sol” – Banda Los Recoditos (#10 RegMex)
16. “El Karma” – Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes Del Rancho (#7 RegMex)
17. “La Bala” – Los Tigres Del Norte (#4 RegMex)
18. “Mi Princesa” – Remmy Valenzuela (#6 RegMex)
19. “Tus Besos” – Juan Luis Guerra 440
20. “Quédate Con Ella” – Natalia Jiménez (Sleek! Horns + electrobeats!)

21. “Soltero Disponible” – Regulo Caro (#8 RegMex)
22. “Hablame de Ti” – Banda MS (snoooooozzzzzz)
23. “Mi Vecinita” – Plan B
24. “Plakito” – Yandel ft. El General Gadiel
25. “Soledad” – Don Omar

—————–

11. “Entonces Que Somos” – Banda El Recodo (A nada Luciano Luna ballad off Recodo’s 2013 album, now turned into a dramatic short film.)
12. “Eres Tú” – Proyecto X
13. “Zapatillas Ferragamo” – Meño Lugo
15. “Soy Un Desmadre” – Banda Tierra Sagrada ft. Marco Flores y La #1 Banda Jerez
16. “La Indicada” – Kevin Ortíz
17. “El Que Se Enamora Pierde” – Banda Carnaval (What a courtly bunch of hombres.)
18. “Al Estilo Mafia” – Saul El Jaguar ft. La Bandononona Clave Nueva de Max Peraza
19. “Dime” – Julión Álvarez
20. “Lo Hiciste Otra Vez” – La Arrolladora Banda El Limón (Oh dear, this is not good. Not just sap — meandering sap.)

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