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Pancho Barraza

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio

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Last time out, NorteñoBlog counted six chart hits among the quarter’s best. This quarter we’re down to three, which doesn’t necessarily mean the radio has turned into a wasteland — after all, part of the thrill of radio is hearing a song you never much cared for, like Gerardo Ortiz’s “Fuiste Mia,” suddenly sound really good in the company of entirely dissimilar songs. Not that you’ll find “Fuiste Mia” below. But who knows, I may relent before the year is out.

No, all this means is that norteño and banda music have thriving independent scenes, geared more toward online video than terrestrial radio — see the tiny labels and self-releases promoted by Beto Sierra, whose YouTube clients make up a good portion of this list. In terms of their commercial outlook, bands like Máximo Grado and Los Rodriguez don’t resemble the reactionary ’80s heyday of “indie rock” so much as the early rock heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, when bands simply wanted to get paid to rock out, whether they recorded for Excello or Sun or Decca or RCA. Today’s world of online promotion means it’s easier for musicians of all genres to get heard, though not necessarily to get paid. But the barriers between majors and indies seem more porous in Mexican regional music than they do in Anglo pop and rock. Indie artists like Fidel Rueda and Los Inquietos regularly get played on mainstream radio; major and indie bands record the same corridos, and sometimes the same love songs. Everyone tours the same venues relentlessly. That’s not to say everyone is equal. Indie label acts are routinely priced out of performing on the glamorous award show circuit, and I’m guessing major label artists have first pick of surefire radio hits by Luciano Luna and Horacio Palencia. NorteñoBlog needs to research this more, but in Mexican regional music, the indie-major borderline isn’t drawn philosophically or aesthetically so much as with scrap and hustle and practicality: Who’s got the money? Who’s got the chops? How do we use our chops to get more money?

Of course, 10 years from now, when Ortiz and Julión Álvarez have catalogs full of dull 20-track prestige albums, who knows? Boredom has a way of shaking up philosophies and aesthetics.

1. Banda Renovación“Los Ninis” (Talento Lider)
Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio”

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From a Bark to a Warble: Systema Solar and Julión Álvarez Hear Voices

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systema solarFrom time to time, NorteñoBlog enjoys wandering down to the next continent. Today we visit Colombia, where electrocumbias ricochet across every town square and people should keep their little pig-tailed babies away from the red ants, for heaven’s sake. On the back of the CD Systema Solar (Nacional), the new compilation by the band Systema Solar, we read the following:

“Systema Solar is a musico-visual collective based on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Its members are…”

And then it goes on to list the members — without mentioning which member sounds uncannily like Lil Jon. Now, I’m no music publicist, but it seems to me if one of your bandmates has an on-point Lil Jon bark that he’s comfortable trotting out in song after song, that particular musical characteristic should appear first in your bio. “Before we tell you anything else, there’s a dude in this band who sounds like Lil Jon. We feel we owe humanity this information, so that you do not skip over this CD and regret it the rest of your life. Yadda yadda musical-visual collective…”

But whatever. Systema Solar have plenty else going for them. Though the SXSW veterans sometimes play around with one narrowly defined groove, as in “Oye,” they are equally expert at cramming a bunch of disparate elements atop rocking beats and making it work. “Quien Es El Patrón?” blends spaghetti Western guitars, horns, and — because they are not Calexico, thank goodness — absolutely massive drums and turntable scratches. A crazy panoply of voices ricochets across the town square, ants devour babies, and everyone has a fine time. VALE LA PENA and Pick to Click and all that.

Continue reading “From a Bark to a Warble: Systema Solar and Julión Álvarez Hear Voices”

Diario de Radio 5/18/15

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Calibre 50 – “Contigo”: NorteñoBlog hasn’t yet discussed what a bad song this is. I’d call it “terrible” but that would imply some level of awe or achievement that’s completely lacking in the music. And what about that music? It sounds like a second-tier Maná power ballad, only without the power. As these guys must know, an accordion isn’t a lead guitar! In some cases it’s better than a lead guitar, but its attempts to sustain single notes sound like wheezes, so the whole song feels empty, a dried out husk of attempted passion. Of course it’s a huge hit, so what do I know?
NO VALE LA PENA

Vicente Fernández – “Estos Celos” (2007): A late career hit written, arranged, and produced by Joan Sebastian, who won the Latin Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Song. The strings and midtempo chug could be ’70s Glen Campbell, as could Fernández’s rue when he sings about his jealousy. His high notes should teach Nick Jonas something about chin music.
VALE LA PENA

Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes del Rancho – “El Karma”: NorteñoBlog has waxed about this song before. Basically, it sounds like nothing else on the radio, Camacho’s endless flutters of requinto deepening a murder ballad that’s cynical but cautionary, mythic but subversive, and coming to you direct from BEYOND THE GRAVE. (As near as I can tell, Camacho tries to kill his daughter’s kidnapper and gets killed himself, so Karma doesn’t work!) This is still the best version of the umpteen floating around. Here’s how I explained it to Frank Kogan, but I may be missing some nuance in how its audience hears it:

The song ends with the line, “nobody escapes the reaper.” Other versions of this song are speedy, either triumphal or drunken, performed by norteño quintet or banda. Camacho’s version is slower, stripped down to two guitars and a tuba, the fatalistic retelling of an old old story. Camacho’s version has become the hit version on regional Mexican radio, where it sounds like nothing else — it’s surrounded by sappy love songs and cheery trafficking songs. In early 2015 Camacho dies in a car wreck and “El Karma” hits #1 on Billboard’s overall Hot Latin chart, albeit during a slow week. (It’s the first norteño song to do so in years.) Possible social critique: this death we sing about so blithely deserves our respect.

VALE LA PENA

El Komander – “Malditas Ganas”: Loose, funny, talking as much as he sings — which is good, given his misguided attempts at balladry — Alfredo Rios defines charismatic. The word “charismatic” implies an apparent lack of effort, right?
VALE LA PENA

Pancho Barraza – “Ignoraste Mis Lagrimas” (1995): The cruel oompah of tears.
NO VALE LA PENA

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