Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he Mavericks have long done it their way. Starting as a country band out of Miami, their sound has morphed over the decades, but it should come as no surprise that the long-running band brings the same level of energy and engagement to holiday songs, sticking to their style as they did in the recorded livestream "Hey! Merry Christmas!" concert.
That was evident from the start with "Hey! Merry Christmas," the title track of their 2018 release, with a thumping bass, the punchy horns section and the irrepressible Jerry Dale McFadden on keyboards. Not to mention lead singer Raul Malo's warm, vibrant vocal deliver here and throughout. His voice has lost none of its luster over the years.
One thinks she really "will be mine eternally" as Malo sings in "One More Christmas." Perhaps more wish than reality, but in Malo's hands (make that, voice), one can only think it will happen.
The Mavericks expanded their sound over the years to add jazz and boogie woogie sounds to the repertoire. The jazzy leanings of The Mavericks came through in the slow-paced "Christmas For Me (Is You)" with exact leaning guitar lines from Eddie Perez.
The Mavs did not stay there for long, quickly picking up the pace with "Santa Does" with sax and trumpet providing a bunch with McFadden coloring it with his organ lines.
The Mavericks were helped by a few friends interspersed during the concert. Sweet Lizzy Project, a Nashville-by-way-of-Cuba-based quintet played a few holiday songs. SLP forged a relationship with The Mavericks In 2017 when they were showcased on PBS's "Havana Time Machine," alongside The Mavs.
Lead Singer Lisset Diaz, who has pipes to spare, sometimes recalled Shakira with her intonation. And they sure rocked on "This Christmas, I'm Not Going Home." Ouch! But SLP did a 180 immediately with another rocker, "It's Christmas (Everything Will Be Alright)." What a difference a song makes.
The Mavs were out after a few songs with the smile inducing "Santa Wants To Take You for a Ride" highlighting Malo's sonorous voice with a jazzy accompaniment – the staccato of the horns from The Fantastic Five with drummer Paul Deakin's steady, but spare beat. While Perez took most of the leads during the 90-minute show, Malo added a few thick licks here.
Retro rocker J.D. McPherson later took the stage as the second guest of the night following a sit-down conversation with Malo (there were two in the presentation with the second providing good background to McPherson and the making of his 2018 holiday disc, "Socks"). He and his band meshed exceedingly well sonically with the headliners. "Hey Skinny Santa!" was another song all but guaranteed to make you smile. Like The Mavs, McPherson's featured a good dose of horns with The Mavs on backing vocals.
It wasn't until two-thirds of the way through the 63-minute show that the first recognizable Christmas tune was played – "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Malo played it solo acoustic with a whistled stanza as well – and very very slowly for added impact.
The three groups came together for another well-known Christmas song, John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." "So Merry Christmas and a happy near year/Let's hope it's a good one without any fear," sang Diaz, bringing the optimism in a song that continues to resonate 49 years later.
This was obviously not a night leaning heavily on holiday classics. If looking for that, one would have been sorely disappointed. And that would have been your fault. But yet again, The Mavericks live up to their name and wear it well.
Hey! Merry Christmas
One More Christmas
Christmas For Me (Is You)
Santa Does - Gabriella Griffith introduced
Sweet Lizzy Project –
This Christmas, I'm Not Going Home
It's Christmas (Everything Will Be Alright)
It's Christmas Without You
Santa Wants to Take You for a Ride
I Have Wanted You For Christmas
Hey Skinny Santa!
Every Single Christmas
I'll Be Home for Christmas
Christmas Time (Comin' Round Again)
Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)
Happy Xmas (War Is Over)