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Noel Torres

Estimado Noel Torres…

noel torres

NOEL.

Noelnoelnoelnoelnoelnoelnoel.

We need to talk.

You may be the most gifted corridero of your generation. You play accordion better than almost anyone, certainly better than Gerardo Ortiz, and I even prefer you to Remmy Valenzuela because I can tell it’s you playing, the way you slide around the main notes of the melody on little flurries of fast notes. It’s a performing tic, but it’s a good and versatile performing tic and you don’t lean on it too hard. If this whole singer-songwriter thing dries up, you could become a session pro — just build yourself a studio and punch your genius into the music of people willing to pay for it. Your fingers could even make Luis Coronel albums worth hearing.

Your playing sounds even better in the middle of a band just as good, if not better, than you are. Not only do you hire the best players, but you get them to play as a band, unequaled in power and sheer density of radness per second. Your corridos are like The Avengers: Fight for Culiacán — only filmed in super widescreen, so we can dispense with all those quick cuts and just observe everyone’s awesome deeds at once. You can be Iron Man or whoever, I don’t care. El Pulpo‘s like the Hulk, bashing away on some narco’s private jets inside the booming expanse of a hangar. Whoever plays bass — you should really start crediting them — can be Captain Norteamérica, holding the team together. Is George Ramos OK with being Scarlet Witch, but reborn as a bajo sexto player? His chords mess with everyone’s minds and alter reality and whatnot. Doesn’t matter. The point is, your small norteño bands are overwhelming and absorbing, up there with some of human civilization’s greatest work. We’re talking Guernica, or Ornette Coleman’s album with Pat Metheny.

I understand why you’d wanna sing romantic banda tunes. Continue reading “Estimado Noel Torres…”

How Do We Hear Violent Corridos? (Desfile de Éxitos 3/12/16)

los tucanes

Thanks to Los Tucanes de Tijana, NorteñoBlog has been forced into another installment of our occasional feature HASTY CARTEL GOOGLING. This long-running quintet of corrideros is nothing if not consistent, and they’re back at #20 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart with “Panchito El F1,” a pro forma cartel ballad ripped from the headlines by their prolific songwriter Mario Quintero. The story concerns a real life honcho of the Gulf Cartel in Zacatecas. Until recently he operated under the nombres de cartel “Panchito” and “F1,” but was captured along with coworkers in May. The federales also confiscated some of the cartel’s heavy weaponry, including four grenade launchers and four AK47s. (No andan cazando venados con esa mierda, amirite?) The song is Panchito’s origin story: when ordered to kill someone else’s family, he refuses. As a penalty, his own family is kidnapped and tortured, but he gets them back. (I think; standard gabacho translation caveats apply.) The corrido also mentions a different Gulf Cartel honcho named Comandante Hamburguesa. Since this Hamburgler appears to be still at large, NorteñoBlog will leave his Hasty Cartel Googling up to you!

Does current Mexican law permit narcocorridos on the radio? This recent article suggests “Panchito El F1” is probably banned from Mexico’s airwaves because it “publicly supports criminal actions.” (I’m sure the Gulf Cartel is wondering why membership is down.) As we saw in our last round of Hasty Cartel Googling, this ban is not absolute: La Séptima Banda recently charted with the wafer-thin character study “El Hijo del Ingeniero,” based on the party habits of a real life cartel scion. But that’s a party song. “F1” has violence and weaponry and is not the sort of thing the Mexican government wants impressionable muchachos to hear. You know, all those muchachos who listen to the radio but don’t know how to work Youtube.

NorteñoBlog does not support banning violent corridos from the radio, because banning violent corridos from the radio is silly. Corrido bans are the ineffective smokescreens of an utterly failed war on drugs. Better to focus on the corruption that prevents Mexico from thoroughly prosecuting its criminals. Better to alleviate Mexico’s poverty, or to deal with drug-addicted El Norte; these are the blights that have driven Mexican people to the cartels. (A possibly optimistic statistic: “A 2012 study by the Mexcian Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO) figured if the U.S. legalized marijuana, Mexican drug cartels would lose 30 percent of their revenue.”) There are no simple solutions; but whatever the solutions might be, neoliberal outrage over suppressing free speech is a secondary issue.

So here’s the real question when it comes to songs like “F1”: What do people hear in violent corridos, and why? Continue reading “How Do We Hear Violent Corridos? (Desfile de Éxitos 3/12/16)”

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”

El Karma Comes Back To You Hard

camacho18656z

Alternate headline: NorteñoBlog Steps On Pitchfork

That’s right, my first article at the illustrious music website Pitchfork.com is also Pitchfork’s first article about Regional Mexican music. It’s all about Ariel Camacho’s song “El Karma,” which longtime NB readers know I like a bit. Here’s the opening:

So far in 2015, six different songs have topped Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. Five of them involved slick, established stars like Enrique Iglesias singing about love or dancing, but the sixth hit was different. It was a corrido, part of Mexico’s century-old ballad tradition about everyday heroes facing impossible odds; according to Salon’s Alexander Zaitchik, corridos are like “contemporary news reports—a Mexican version of Chuck D’s description of rap as black America’s CNN.” With the rise of Mexican drug cartels over the last few decades, corridos have largely given way to narcocorridos, story songs lauding the exploits of illicit kingpins and their employees. But before last March, no narcocorrido had ever hit #1 on the Hot Latin chart.

Then came “El Karma”…

Read all about it at the ‘Fork! You’ll notice the NB has changed our header to mark the occasion: Hats off to Omar Burgos, Los Plebes’ astounding tuba player.

Shot Through El Corazón: Sinaloa Muscles In On Latin Pop

I wrote this a couple years ago for Maura Magazine; I reprint it here with their kind permission.

———————————

“He’s really good,” said my librarian Fatima, handing me the new Noel Torres CD. She’d seen him live in Chicago a few months back. I’d never heard of the guy — when it comes to library CDs, I have no standards and few expectations. La Estructura, featuring Torres’s perfectly trimmed hair and penetrating scowl, immediately moved to the top of my stack.

Noel_Torres_-_La_Estructura

Fatima knew what she was talking about. When you hear La Estructura, the most appropriate response is awe, followed by abject humility and despair because you will never create anything as good or alive or technically accomplished, as upending of your expectations. “I can’t even fathom what his band is doing,” went my first attempt at an explanation. Torres is a young man from the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa. He sings, plays the accordion, writes most of his songs, and leads a four-piece norteño band as well as an occasional brass band. His unadorned singing gets the job done; at all other tasks he is a motherfucker. Tossing off blazing accordion riffs with the “top this!” spirit of ‘80s hair metal, he leads his band through variations on polkas and waltzes. But while much Sinaloan norteño music simply bounces along, arid and sparse, the Torres band fills every instant with rambunctious noise. Tuba and bajo quinto fall all over each other, the drummer bashes like he’s playing on a John Zorn record, and somehow all this craziness congeals into steady pulses and familiar forms. My second attempt at explanation was one word: “brutal.”
Continue reading “Shot Through El Corazón: Sinaloa Muscles In On Latin Pop”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/29/15

el mimoso

Mexico and the U.S. might not agree on how to end the drug war or where to store El Chapo, but say this for international unity: we both love us some Banda MS. The banda’s uncharacteristically snappy “Piénsalo” continues at #1, both on the Mexican “Popular” chart and on Billboard‘s Regional Mexican chart, which measures U.S. airplay. Within the genre, they occupy the same position Arrolladora did a couple years ago, where any single they release is guaranteed to inundate radio playlists and hang out high on the charts for a couple months. (Not that Arrolladora’s doing badly for themselves lately — see #7 below.) I for one welcome our new romantic overlords and would like to encourage them to play a unity concert for the Supreme Leader of Iran.

New and notable this week:

At #12, Noel Torres’ ballad “Me Interesas” finally enters the Mexican chart, more than a year after topping U.S. airplay. More notable as an accordion hero and corridero, Torres also knows how to do banda romance right, largely because he knows his own voice. Nobody’s ever gonna mistake him for the world’s greatest crooner, so he skimps on the vibrato and instead delivers each lyric with forthright efficiency that cuts through the sentiment. Hearing him grow more confident with ballads has been an unexpected pleasure of following his career. (Don’t confuse “Me Interesas” with El Komander’s “Me Interesa,” returning to this chart at #16 and not nearly so interesante. Nobody’s ever gonna mistake El Komander for the world’s greatest crooner either, but he has fewer coping strategies for ballads.) An unenthusiastic Pick to Click!, then — did I mention this song is really old?

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/29/15”

Ask a Norteño Fan: Juan Carlos talks Movimiento Alterado

IMG9588161

“The first time when I hear the corridos — ‘Sanguinarios del M1’ — when I hear that song and when I see how these guys dress, I like it, and I buy a lot of clothes and I like a lot of style of those guys, of those groups… the Movimiento Alterado.”

So says Juan Carlos, a 25-year-old norteño fan who lives and works mixing chemicals near Chicago. Though his family hails from the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, he mostly treasures the new corridos coming out of Sinaloa, a few states to the northwest. His first love, “Sanguinarios,” was the 2010 flagship song of Movimiento Alterado, a loose affiliation of wannabe millionaires playing ultraviolet horror-corridos under the aegis of Burbank-based producers Adolfo and Omar Valenzuela, aka “Los Twiins.” They’re the guys in the “Sanguinarios” video who scowl at you last, and the only ones who don’t sing a verse.

Listeners with a vested interest in the 100-year-old corrido tradition tend to despise Alterado, but for many young fans like Juan Carlos, the movement defines “corrido.” Continue reading “Ask a Norteño Fan: Juan Carlos talks Movimiento Alterado”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2015: Abril – Junio

cuisillos

This quarter’s list contains fewer radio hits than last quarter’s — only four out of 11 — but don’t worry! Both radio and Youtube continue to inundate us with all kinds of great music under the banner of “regional Mexican.” Below we’ve got cumbia from the underrepresented state of Nayarit, violin-driven dance music from the underrepresented state of Oaxaca, a brass banda from Jalisco who dresses in indigenous garb and doesn’t play corridos but sometimes plays piano pop, Linda Ronstadt-style pop country from Nuevo León, Chicago’s hometown heroines Los Horóscopos hitting Mexican radio and giving everybody cuernos, aaaaand (as usual) a whole lotta Sinaloa. NorteñoBlog has apparently been sleeping on the states of Chihuahua and Zacatecas, though, as I’ve dug up zero hot new singles to represent their puro sax styles. Better luck next quarter!

1. Banda Cohuich“Son Kora Kau Te Te Kai Nie Ni (Dialecto Huichol)” (Pegasus)
Huichol is an indigenous Mexican language, and “Son Kora” is a relentless jerking propulsion machine with brass, gang vocals, and a slippery synth line (I think).
hasn’t charted

2. Laura Denisse“Sigo Enamorada” (Fonovisa)
Denisse has a big clear voice in the vein of Linda Ronstadt, and she’s been singing a mix of banda and pop since she was a kid in the ’90s. The big brass riff here is simply a series of repeated notes, but the players articulate and syncopate like swaggering jazz cowboys.
hasn’t charted

3. Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes Del Rancho“Te Metiste” (Del/Sony)
This gorgeous love song sounds just as strange and sparse as “El Karma” when it plays on the radio.
U.S. radio hit

4. Grupo El Reto ft. Alta Consigna“La Parranda Va a Empezar” (Gerencia 360/Sony)
This quartet belongs to la corriente escuela of corridistas who sing about corruption while their corrosive tubists imitate machine gun fire. Corre! The quartet Alta Consigna also has a tuba in the band, so you’ve got two tubists and a requinto (I think?) playing furiously over everything.
hasn’t charted

5. Banda Cuisillos“Cerveza” (Musart/Balboa)
This isn’t even my favorite Cuisillos song of 2015 — that’d be this swinging piano-driven non-single — but these Jaliscanos do indulge several of NorteñoBlog’s weaknesses: two different singers trying to outdo one another in the passion department, brass alternating with guitar, and deplorable sexism.
Mexican radio hit

6. Leandro Ríos ft. Pancho Uresti“Debajo Del Sombrero” (Remex)
This not-so-humble ranchera ballad takes as much pleasure in the act of rhyming as any random song by Sondheim. Although, going through my Spanish rudiments, I’m disappointed the song doesn’t take place in enero, and why doesn’t our heroic caballero own a perro?
U.S. and Mexican radio hit

7. Banda Costado – “Pinotepa” (Talento)
This is a way different sound than we usually enjoy here: lots of percussion, tuba bassline, wild violin, and singers. Many independent lines and very little chordal harmony, in other words.
hasn’t charted

8. Banda Culiacancito“Lastima de Cuerpo” (Del/Sony)
If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know one of my favorite musical effects is rapid fire barrages of syllables that never seem to end and make me feel totally inadequate about my grasp of español. Prolific songwriters Geovani Cabrera (Regulo Caro, Calibre 50) y Horacio Palencia (todos) deliver. Knock yourself out with a trombone slide!
hasn’t charted

9. Los Gfez“Hasta Tu Dedo Gordito” (Remex)
I implore you not to google images of dedos gorditos unless you get off on toe injuries. No judging. I should mention that the quartet Los Gfez, last seen joining Diego Herrera on a likable Mexican hit, start their search for the mystery dedo fast and, through the magic of time changes, find a way to get faster.
hasn’t charted

10. Noel Torres“No Andan Cazando Venados” (Gerencia 360/Sony)
Torres’s arrangement of “Venados” sounds like he’s adapting Ariel Camacho’s unusual instrumentation. He takes stripped down passages of requinto guitar solos over lurching tuba, the same dynamic you find in Camacho’s repertoire, and alternates them with full banda sections. Horns replace rhythm guitar. The result is both serious and silly (ay, esos clarinetes), a fitting tribute that also fits with Torres’s swagger.
hasn’t charted

11. Los Horóscopos de Durango“Estoy Con Otro En La Cama”
Mexican radio hit

10 more good ones:

Miguel – “Coffee”
AB Soto – “Cha Cha Bitch”
Sam Hunt – “House Party”
Markus Feehily – “Love Is a Drug”
Honey Cocaine – “Sundae”
Chemical Brothers ft. Q-Tip – “Go”
Brandon Flowers – “Can’t Deny My Love”
Haley Georgia – “Ridiculous”
Bobby Brackins ft. Zendaya and Jeremih – “My Jam”
Vanbot – “Seven”

¡Nuevo! (starring Noel Torres, Omar Sánchez Omi, y más)

bobby pulido

Well this is the stuff of myth and legend:

Desde el filo de la sierra
Viene la historia que traigo:
Que por esas tierras
Suelta anda una fiera
Entre aquellos pinos altos…

From the edge of the sierra
Comes the story that I bring:
Through those lands
Freely walks a beast
Among those tall pines …

Plenty of corridos begin in a similar manner, of course, establishing their (anti)heroes as larger than life figures. But Noel Torres’s new single on Gerencia 360, “No Andan Cazando Venados” (“Don’t Go Hunting Deer”), opens with knowing mastery of the form. Torres begins by placing himself into the story as storyteller, thus joining the long historical line of corridistas, stretching back not just to Ramon Ayala but to Homer recounting the tales of brave Ulysses. (“Tell me, O Muse…”) Then things get scary. I admit I shuddered when I got to the part about the beast roaming through the tall pines — it’s such a contrast with the folksy opening, and “fiera” arrives at the end of its line with a jolt. Torres reclaims the word’s savagery. (I swear, if I hear one more TV chef tell me he’s “a beast in the kitchen”…) Now I just need to figure out the rest of the song. Something to do with the DEA and big-ass guns. The translation service is limited help in this case.

The song was written by El Diez and Danilo Avilés. El Diez is the shadowy figure who wrote the equally mythic “El Karma,” recorded most iconically by the late Ariel Camacho, but also by Torres and lots of other people. Avilés wrote the second song on Camacho’s El Karma album, and Torres’s arrangement of “Venados” sounds like he’s adapting Camacho’s unusual instrumentation. He takes stripped down passages of requinto guitar solos over lurching tuba, the same dynamic you find in Camacho’s repertoire, and alternates them with full banda sections. Horns replace rhythm guitar. The result is both serious and silly (ay, esos clarinetes), a fitting tribute that also fits with Torres’s swagger. Pick to Click, obviously.

ramon ayalaShould you develop a hankering to delve into corrido history, the Freddie label has released a new Ramon Ayala comp entitled Corridos Famosos. Ayala’s muse speaks to him the tales of brave Gerardo Gonzales, Juanita y Miguel, y otros. No idea how this compares with other Ayala compilations out there.

If we’re already talking (probably) unnecessary cheapo Ramon Ayala reissues, you may have guessed it’s a light week for albums. You’re right! The singles, though, they never stop. Fonovisa has recently sent to radio new work from some of its heaviest hitters. Los Tigres are back with their third Realidades single, the midtempo waltz “Hoy Le Hablo El Diario,” which does the thing where the rhythm section rushes the second beat of every bar so the waltz feels slightly nauseating. In a good way. If you like beards and flannel and don’t wanna move to Seattle, Codigo FN has a slow one out called “Pinche Vieja Interesada,” which is less interesante than its title. Better are the new Proyecto X corrido “5 Letras,” reeling off verse after verse like a gold-plated machine gun eating up magazines, and Remmy Valenzuela’s very stripped-down chiquitita ballad “Menti,” in which his accordion seems capable of breath and thought.

Bobby PulidoBut who needs major label distribution when the internet frontier beckons musicians to simply release their own music? Tejano singer Bobby Pulido has been on the scene since the mid-’90s, and his new “Si No Te Hubiera Conocido” is a likable walking tempo number that could’ve come from Intocable — but does Intocable have its own line of Western wear (see top of page)? I submit that Intocable does NOT.

los grandesThe equally breezy Los Grandes de Tijuana DRANK YOUR LOVE! Just drank it right up. Los Grandes are also ’90s music lifers, and “Me Bebi Tu Amor” has the lazy front-porch-with-squeezebox vibe of Bob Dylan’s Tejano album Together Through Life, still my favorite of his post-’70s catalog.

omar sanchezNorteñoBlog swooned when Gerardo Ortiz mixed up the banda with the bachata in “Eres Una Niña,” and now I hear Omar Sánchez Omi trying something similar on “Tu y Yo.” Rhythmically it doesn’t vary too much from Recodo’s romantic moods, but Sánchez’s voice is husky and swarthy like King Romeo’s and could have some of the same R&B appeal, if enough people hear him. Sánchez used to sing for Chicago’s Alacranes Musical, one of my favorite duranguense bands, and there exists a photo of him dressed up like Santa Claus and standing next to Diana Reyes, so I’m pulling for him.

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