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puro Zacatecas sax

Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (junio 2018)

la zenda nortena

It is NorteñoBlog’s longstanding position that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. The world’s top puro sax curator DJ Alfonzin directs me to the latest from Los Últimos de Topochico, a Monterrey seven-piece that’s been around since at least 2012 but has left a very small footprint in El Norte. They’re trying to change that with the male-gazey video for “Regálame Ésta Noche” (alternate title: “Sáxame Ésta Noche”), in which an extremely sheepish bro fantasizes about his hot girlfriend abandoning him and donning fancy lingere to hook up with another random woman they met at a restaurant. Astute YouTube commentor YsyNicole points out that this plot is a naked attempt to drive click traffic. The worst part is, Los Últimos are good enough that they didn’t need to seem so desperate. This “Regálame” is a far cry from Javier Solis’s sentimiento standard — it’s faster and catchier, and if you listen to this genre for the endless entwinings of sax and accordion, wrapping around one another like pea vine tendrils, this tune produces.

huapango de rockyThose seeking to avoid Los Últimos’ sexist clickbait scheme are directed instead to their “El Huapango de Rocky Balboa” (aka “Gonna Sax Now”), a crowd-pleasing medley of “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger,” performed in the trickily subdiveded and lately hip huapango folk dance style. Or to their self-released 2017 EP, Los Perrotes de Monterrey, which opens with a huapango version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and remains just as delightful for three more songs. There’s a fine line between crassness and toxicity, as we learned from El Sistema de un Abajo, and those who fall squarely into the “crass” category deserve all the attention they can get. VALE LA PENA

sueno americanoWe last caught up with Dallas’s bestselling La Energia Norteña in late 2016, when their dull fifth album for the Azteca label was topping Billboard‘s Regional Mexican album chart. They’ve since released album #6, El Sueño Americano (suggested title: El Sueño Saxual), which is no less dull and sadly is not a sax-and-accordion-driven concept album about the plight of immigrants, although the saxless title lament addresses that topic. But maybe this critique is too short-sighted. Surely the plight of immigrants is a multifaceted plight, encompassing diverse subjects like SEDUCING WOMEN THE DAY BEFORE THEY MARRY SOMEONE ELSE AND CALLING IT THEIR “BACHELORETTE PARTY” (“Despedida de Soltera”)??? Talk about plight. Like calling a precious kitten “Big Guy” or Donald Trump “Mr. President,” “La Energia” seems to be a name bestowed with irony, since these guys make even their pre-wedding seductions sound staid. NO VALE LA PENA
Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (junio 2018)”

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Yo Quiero Tu… ¿Grammy?

ramon ayala grammy

The Grammy category with the weirdest name — Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) — is especially bizarre this year.

It is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the Grammys have no idea what to do with Mexican music, especially norteño. This shouldn’t be the case. As Chris Willman reported last year, every Grammy genre, including Latin, has a “blue ribbon panel” of 15-18 industry insiders tasked with whittling long lists of vote-getting albums into the final lists of nominees. These panels are diverse groups of music professionals, which may explain why the nominees for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) tend to reward repeat winners’ often middling work, or tastefully dull ranchera albums nobody heard. The industry professionals who nominate Grammys want to reward music that reflects their industry’s professionalism. El Komander probably doesn’t fit the bill.

Usually the results resemble the overall Album of the Year category in 1994, when Tony Bennett’s Unplugged beat out The Three Tenors in Concert 1994, Eric Clapton’s blues tribute From the Cradle, Bonnie Raitt’s 3rd straight AOTY nom, Longing in Their Hearts, and Seal’s 2nd album. Those nominees were so lame they sparked a “revolt” and reforms, partly because they completely omitted Hole’s Live Through This.(!)

aida cuevasSo this year the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) category includes a couple such expected nominees: a pretty good album by a perennial nominee, Banda El Recodo’s Ayer y Hoy (Fonovisa) — like happy families, all Band El Recodo albums are alike — and the boring “unplugged” Arrieros Somos — Sesiones Acusticas (Cuevas), by ranchera legend Aida Cuevas, whose far livelier Juan Gabriel tribute album missed the cutoff date. But then, the category takes a turn for the strange.

ni diabloThe man with the continent’s best voice, Julión Álvarez, is nominated for Ni Diablo Ni Santo (Fonovisa). In a typical year, you’d shrug. But not this year! That’s because Julión Álvarez, like certain terrorists and North Korean businesses, is SANCTIONED by the U.S. Treasury, meaning his assets are blocked and Americans can’t do business with him. He’s vanished from streaming services and he can’t tour El Norte. Listening to his illegally uploaded, mostly romantic, Grammy nominated album on YouTube is now an ACT OF POLITICAL RESISTANCE, or something. (It’s OK, not his best.) #FreeJulionAlvarez!

alex campos momentosThe other solo male nominee, Alex Campos, isn’t even Mexican! He’s a Colombian singer who wins Dove Awards and Latin Grammys for Christian music. (Here he is in 2012, singing “Dios Es Pederoso” with Hillsong Global Project Español.) His album Momentos (Sony) is a Christian mariachi album. Granted, it’s way more entertaining than Christian Nodal’s surprisingly un-nominated “mariacheño” debut, but also way less representative of the genre — not to mention less good than Alicia Villarreal’s ranchera pop La Villarreal.

zapateando en el norteAnd finally, there’s Azteca Records’ multi-artist compilation Zapateando en el Norte, the most bizarre nominee of all. It’s a compilation of puro sax bands from Chihuahua and Zacatecas, a longstanding interest of the Blog’s readership. Puro sax is a wonderful norteño subgenre all its own. Bands play bouncy sax/accordion polkas and sing often bereft, emo lyrics, and their popularity is impervious to larger regional Mexican trends.

Puro sax bands also play a lot of huapangos, largely instrumental tunes that contrast triple and duple rhythms — they’re all in fast 6/8 time — and are used for Mexican folk dancing. (“Zapateados,” these dances are called more generally; you stomp your feet a lot.) Huapangos make for spritely mid-album or mid-set novelties. As the Blog discovered last summer, more and more online playlists of huapangos have been appearing, so Azteca owner Humberto Novoa had his bands cut a bunch of huapangos for this comp.

Now remember, whoever nominates Mexican albums seems pretty oblivious to factors like hipness, relevance, and commercial performance. We can argue all day about whether that’s a good thing or not; for the Grammys in general, it’s a core existential issue. Anyway, this year, Azteca’s flagship puro sax band, the twice-nominated La Maquinaria Norteña, who stand astride the puro sax genre like Saxophone Colossi, missed the eligibility date with their own album, Por Obvias Razones. So in a sense, this album occupies their spot…

… which means the fifth nominee for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) is a compilation of a subgenre (huapangos) of a subgenre (puro sax) of a subgenre (norteño) of an industry format (regional Mexican). (Including Tejano.)

It’d be like the Best Rap Album nomination going to a compilation of Southern rap Mama songs, or something. Which, btw, the Blog would totally endorse.

But this is where the blue ribbon panel’s haplessness pays off! Give or take the Banda El Recodo album, Zapateando en el Norte is the best thing in this category. It’s a nonstop zapateado fiesta, with sax and accordion banging out their riffs over amazingly capable rhythm sections. I’d vote for it, anyway. Although if Gerardo Ortiz had been nominated as he should have been, it’d be a different story.

Oh yeah, one more bit of Grammy hilarity. Guess which subgenre goes completely unrepresented among these Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) nominees? As it has every year since the category’s 2012 inception?

TEJANO.

Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (septiembre 2017)

la nueva onda nortena

enamorandoteIt is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. When last the Blog caught up with Chihuahuan quintet La Reunión Norteña, it was to approve of their febrero single “La Enorme Distancia.” That single does NOT appear on the band’s latest album, Enamorándote (Azteca); but true to the band’s name, La Reunión, like Grover, remains obsessed with issues of nearness and farness. Witness their latest single “Cuando Estoy Junto a Ti” (alternate title/band name: “La Reunión Saxual”), a charmingly guileless song of devotion; or previous single “Un Minuto Más”, a reference not to the band’s saxual stamina, but to their inability to let you go. (So, probably a reference to the band’s saxual stamina.) If anything, these guys are a little too consistent — I’d be hard pressed to tell those songs apart based on their music alone — but, like quiet storm, you don’t necessarily put puro sax music on to be distracted by it. NO VALE LA PENA

La-Nueva-Onda-Norteña-V-Hell-Yea-2017-500x500Except when you do. Las Vegas quintet/sextet La Nueva Onda Norteña markets itself as a “new wave” band, and the Blog’s job is to figure out what that means. Their fourth(?) album #Hell Yeah (Discos America) includes some tempo-shifting intros and outros, but to my ears they have two elements that are really ushering in the new wave. First, their mid-song shoutout is “Hell yeah,” a phrase they’ve claimed for their own through some judicious hashtagging. Second, everyone in the rhythm section plays like they want to be noticed, adding to even more interesting counterpoint than this genre’s typical sax/accordion twinings.

Cases in point: the straightforward proposition “Quiero Hacerte El Amor” (alt. title “#Quiero Sax You Up”), with its prominent slapdash drum fills; or “Que Te Cuesta” (aka “#Saxo Por Dinero”), which manages to slip into some thunderous grooves without ever losing its momentum. Leadoff song “Mi Castigo” (or “#Tortura Saxual”), a cover of synth-saturated Grupo Ladron, sets the tone: love is expensive, love is torture, but our chops are badass and our good taste will pull us through. On cursory listen I’m ready to recommend the whole thing, but I’ll Pick to Click their cover of Caifanes’ “No Dejes Que,” simply because it sums up their ethos so well. VALE LA PENA

Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (septiembre 2017)”

Yo Quiero Tu… ¿Huapango? (junio 2017)

conjunto atardecer

definitivamenteIt is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. Out in the west Texas town of El Paso we find the brand new group H Norteña, whose debut album Definitivamente (alternate title: Definición de Saxo) is just out on the tiny Regiomex label. Back when duranguense was a thing, lead singer Heraclio “Lako” Cepeda fronted the duranguense outfit Conjunto Atardecer, which means he knows his way around saxes playing absurdly jaunty riffage over unrelenting polka beats. Sometime before you die, check out Atardecer’s 2009 hit “Encontre,” as delightfully clattery and synth-stabby as any duranguense hit you care to name.

With members hailing from both Durango and Chihuahua, H Norteña slows down the tempo a few clicks for songs like the title single and “Amor Fantastico” (aka “Saxo Fantastico y Donde Encontrarlo”). NorteñoBlog is partial to their herky jerky folk dance medley “Popurri de Huapangos” because I enjoy subdividing 6/8 beats while contorting my body. Just a little trick I picked up from Dr. Alex Comfort M.D., D.Sc., Y.M.M.V.

Tired of huapango? Fed up with… merequetengue? Then by all means avoid “Mi Son” (suggested title: “Sonrisa Saxy”) by Azierto Norte. It’s another galloping 6/8 instrumental with tricky internal rhythms and those rarest of all beasts: bajo sexto solos. And whatever you do, stay away from San Luis Potosí natives Conjunto Águila Real and their dark “Huapango El Pisteador” (aka “Sax y Tequila”), which, with a few changes in timbre, could pass for a British folk-prog instrumental from the early ’70s. Other points in its favor: the rad sections where the accordion plays lightning fast triplets over the slower sax melody, and a dramatic ending on what they call in music school the “James Bond chord.” Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu… ¿Huapango? (junio 2017)”

Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (febrero 2017)

reunion-nortena

aycci-nortenaIt is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. From the icy wilds of New Mexico comes Aycci Norteña, whose self-released debut album Futuro en Nuestras Manos (alternate title: Saxo Con Nuestras Manos) is an entirely decent jaunt through pop hooks and sax/accordion riffs. As with Geeshie Wiley and Jesus, photos of the Ayccis don’t exist, but the principles of detection tell me they’re a five-or-six-piece: cracking bajosexto/bass/drums rhythm section, an overactive accordionist whose sworn enemy is silence, and sax. Plus whoever’s singing. Plus whoever’s applying heaping doses of reverb. But fair is fair: Aycci’s song entitled “Por Eso Te Amo” (aka “Tu Saxo es Por Eso Te Amo”) has less reverb than Río Roma’s pop dirge of the same name. We’re gonna Pick to Click “Quiero Volver,” though, because then you can watch all these happy couples dancing:

Remember right after Y2K when The Strokes came out, and then suddenly you had all these guitar rock bands named “The [Objects]”? There were The Roots, The Streets, The Avalanches, and I forget who else. Something similar is cooking at la frontera de U.S./Mexico, where saxophones glisten against the desert sands. There we find: Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (febrero 2017)”

Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (diciembre 2016)

cumbre-nortena

It is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. When we last checked in with the New Mexican quintet Anexo Al Norte, they were pursuing perfection with fellow New Mexican Beto Ronquillo. That pursuit failed, so they’ve settled for a limp Christmas cumbia on Blas Records, “Parodia Botas de Navidad,” unfortunately NOT a parody of “The Christmas Shoes” (aka “Los Zapatos de Saxmas”). Announcing your song as a parody is never a good move, especially when the song isn’t funny, but sax player Iván Murillo almost makes up for it with his groovy syncopated takes on “Jingle Bells.” In the song, Santa brings the boys in the band a bunch of instruments, along with the titular botas and a mixing board. One of them falls asleep with the mixing board, which is sure to mess up his levels. In the video’s high point, the band leaves a bowl of tamales out for Santa Claus, a tradition I will now force upon my own family. (NO VALE LA PENA)

no-hay-quintoAs you’d expect, the Dallas saxtet La Energia Norteña has far more energy. They’ve just released their fifth album for the Azteca label, an ode to saxual endurance entitled No Hay Quinto Malo. And, because the fifth time’s the charm, the album debuted at #1 on Billboard‘s Latin Album chart. Lead single “Hoy Me Toca Perder” (aka “Hoy Me Toca de Dar Saxo Oral”) is a maudlin thing, with string cues and a video full of meaningful looks and lonely rooms, though it does afford Israel Oviedo a chance to wail in full Clarence Clemons mode. Better is “Me Ganó la Calentura” (aka “Calor Saxual”), which sounds more like winning, even though its chord progression gives it an undercurrent of heartache.

But NorteñoBlog is most partial to their cover of Joan Sebastian‘s straight-up country song, “El Taxista.” (“El Saxista”? Too easy.) Written by Sebastian’s son José Manuel Figueroa, its melody soars through a tale of lovelorn despair, told from a stoic taxi driver’s point of view. In other words it’s perfect for this genre, where jaunty beats and riffs try to ignore their songs’ anguish every day of the week. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (diciembre 2016)”

Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (agosto 2016)

maquinaria nortena

maquinariaIt is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. First things first: La Maquinaria Norteña, the Zaca-huahuan/New Mexican quintet that stands astride this genre like a saxophone colossus, has just released its ninth-I-think album in a decade, Generación Maquinaria Est. 2006 (alternate title: Saxo de Cumpleaños). Thanks to some major label Fonovisa distribution, and because they’re on the scene like máquinas saxuales, they sold 3,000 copies of the album its first week. That was enough to debut at #1 on Billboard‘s Latin Albums chart.

Agosto may be slow, but Maquinaria isn’t. Generación skips along in typical unrelenting fashion; the polka beats are sharp and nonstop, brothers Keith and Rory Nieto fill nearly every instant with well-plotted sax/accordion ideas, and Ivan Gutierrez winds his bass through the proceedings like a buoyant breeze. You can hear all this on their current hit “Todo Es Diferente” (subtitle: “… Excepto El Saxo”), but NorteñoBlog notes two other standouts. Keith’s original “El Corazón No Miente” throws in a slamming surprise ending, with electric guitar and drums bashing away; and singer Sergio Soto contributes a new breakneck waltz that sounds old, “Cosquillitas” (i.e., “¡¡¡Tickle Sax!!!”). Maquinaria’s quality is a difference of degree: the group simply sounds fuller, richer, and more distinctive than other puro sax bands. Once you go Maq, you’ll never go back.

Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (agosto 2016)”

Julio Tiene Calor

Pg13-Mens-soccer-celebration

Thanks to you, a loyal coalition of corrido heads and puro sax devotees, NorteñoBlog enjoyed its most-clicked month yet in julio. Here are the posts that got the most attention, both current articles and old ones:

Current Posts:
1. Trap is Hyphy and Hyphy is Trap (¡Nuevo!)
Hyphy Music Inc. is still going strong; Martin Patrón’s Trap Corridos is rad.

2. NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio
12 tunes worth hearing; NorteñoBlog will totally update the YouTube playlist sometime in the next decade.

3. Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (julio 2016)
Sax riffs and terrible puns comin’ at ya!

4. Desfile de Éxitos 7/9/16
Intocable sets a chart record; the blog continues to marvel at how much the kids love Los Plebes del Rancho.

5. Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 7/8/16
Songwriter’s Showcase underrates the new Recodo single.

Old Posts:
1. Explosion Norteña: Beto’s Revenge
Manuel celebrates the inimitable flow of Beto Cervantes, lead MC of Explosion Norteña.

2. Top 5 W.T.F. Corrido Moments!
More intersections of rap and corridos: Manuel counts ’em down.

3. Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 6/23/16
La Iniciativa and Banda Los Recoditos team up for a tongue-twisting tune about wingmen and the women they share at the club.

4. 100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015
Seriously, who buys these things?

5. Pronounced “Jai-Fi”: The Rise and Fall of Hyphy Norteño
Almost a decade ago, Los Amos and friends went hyphy; WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

¡Gracias por leer!

Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (julio 2016)

en que falle

nortenos de ojinagaIt is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. From the fabled Chihuahuan city of Ojinaga — home to El Zorro de Ojinaga, La Fiera de Ojinaga, Capitanes de Ojinaga, El Deshollinador de Ojinaga, you name it — come Norteños de Ojinaga, a saxy quintet-or-sextet whose latest album for the Discos America label is their lucky umpteenth. It’s called Besos Nuevos (proposed subtitle: … y Saxo Oral!!! ), and it seems pretty pro-forma as far as Chihuahuan sax albums go. Sadsack lead single “Tus Mentiras” (alternate title: “Saxo, Mentiras, y Videocinta”) runs over four minutes, which feels like an eternity in puro sax world, possibly because the rhythm section’s oompah seems to be slowing down as they play. A neat formal experiment with time? Maybe, but it violates the first law of puro sax music: get in, get out, leave ’em wanting more, and, for heaven’s sake, remember what genre you’re in. This is no place to get emo!

reunion nortenaNext up is La Reunion Norteña, who formed in Chihuahua but whose members also hail from neighboring states Durango and Texas. (Thom Jurek wrote a thorough bio at Allmusic.) Their seventh album in as many years, Historias de Amor en Canciones (alternate title: Historia de la Saxualidad Humana), is out on Azteca Records, a Dallas label that knows its way around the puro sax world. La Reunion’s labelmates include La Maquinaria Norteña, who stand astride this genre like saxophone colossi, having recently been Grammy nominated for one of 2015’s best albums. On first listen, Historias is in Maquinaria’s league — the bouncy riffs never let up and frontman Rogelio Martinez sings with relaxed authority and an chivalrous quiver in his throat. He might fail at love (“En Qué Fallé,” aka “Fracaso Saxual”), but if he does he will apologize (“Te Pido Perdón”… i.e.,”Por Mi Fracaso Saxual”), and then he and the band will salve your pain with a big dumb cumbia like “Ahora Sí Baila El Muñeco,” this week’s Pick to Click. (“Ahora Baila Con Esto Muñeco Saxual”? Nonono.)

Continue reading “Yo Quiero Tu Saxo (julio 2016)”

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