The Mavericks Are Still Hard to Define
They mix country, Latin, pop and even vaudeville. They play two shows at Northern Lights Theater.
Top Show: The Mavericks at Northern Lights Theater, Potawatomi Bingo & Casino Thursday, April 2 and Friday, April 3
While a critic pontificating about the old days of country & western music risks inadvertently imitating a geezer who harrumphs at kids and their iPhones, I don’t think I’m waving my cane too wildly by noting how much easier it once seemed to distinguish male C&W voices from each other.
In other words, you damn well knew when you were hearing Buck Owens and when you were hearing Willie Nelson. Is that true of, to use two currently popular examples, Jason Aldean and Dierks Bentley?
It is true of Raul Malo, the lead singer for the Mavericks: his gorgeous vibrato reflects his Cuban heritage, love of classic country music, and flair for melodrama a la Roy Orbison. Whether he sounds ready to die or ready to yodel, he always sounds pretty, make that purty.
His vocal beauty and range have helped give the Mavericks tremendous musical leeway: in their first run, from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, they went from covering Hank Williams to mixing their version of contemporary C&W with Latin, pop, 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and even vaudeville.
That same run also led from Miami rock clubs and mainstream success to label conflicts and the loss of fans who didn’t want to travel all the way down the Mavericks’ twisty stylistic road. After a brief reunion and new album circa 2003, the Mavericks rode off in largely separate directions and Malo started a solid solo career.
The second reunion, starting in 2011, has thus far produced two all-new albums, 2013’s In Time and 2015’s Mono, that match their 1990s output. Freed of the drive to please some nebulous public, The Mavericks have roundly embraced their wanderlust variety.
Last year, they did fire bassist and founding member Robert Reynolds because of an opiate addiction, although they’re open to his coming back if he rehabilitates fully. The Mavericks aren’t so old-fashioned that they’ll let a friend’s life turn into a self-destructive cliché.
Friday, April 3: Robert DeLong at the Rave
People who make electronic dance music (EDM) often rely on light shows and crowd energy when they perform live. Some of them just stand there pumping their fists and occasionally pushing buttons and fiddling with knobs. Robert DeLong, who began his musical life as a drummer, prefers to stay active onstage.
Drumming, singing and handling EDM tools in unusual ways, he builds more excitement atop club music that already carries a crackling charge. On his 2013 album Just Movement and 2014 EP Long Way Down, he comes across as a sensitive boy utilizing EDM to come out of his shell and to construct a gleaming new one.
Friday, April 3: Katrina at Shank Hall
You needn’t be a music nerd to recall “Walking on Sunshine,” the 1985 hit for Katrina and (sometimes &) the Waves. Its production and video were definitely products of the times; the song itself has clung to the memory of anyone who has heard it. (If you don’t wish to look at Jack Black, here’s the official video.)
You needn’t be shy about wondering what Katrina herself, born in Kansas with the surname Leskanich, has been doing since. After the Waves rolled out again, she continued living in the UK and did some TV and radio presenting for the BBC. Last year, she put out Blisland, her first solo album in a decade. She can still provide a pop thrill to nerds and normals alike.
Saturday, April 4: The Sea and Cake at Cactus Club
While it is bad form to quote oneself, it might be worse form not to point out that one very recently wrote about the Sea and Cake at length, and that was less than four months ago. There isn’t much to add, except that a band as varied and reflective and restless as the Sea and Cake is worth seeing twice in four months, because this show is likely to be noticeably, maybe radically, different from that show.
Saturday, April 4: Sam Hunt at Eagles Ballroom
Sam Hunt is from a small town—Cedartown, Georgia, population under 10,000—but he’s adjusted spectacularly well to the super-sized dreams of Nashville. For example, before he put out his debut album, Montevallo, last October, he had already topped the charts by proxy, as co-writer of Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over.”
A former college quarterback and very nearly a Kansas City Chief, Hunt has the corn-fed hunkiness that is almost a prerequisite for a man who wants to be a country star nowadays, and Montevallo has the pop, hip-hop and rock angles that have made modern country a saleable genre. No wonder he sold out this venue.