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The Mavericks continue the musical bounce

Greek Theatre, Hollywood, Cal., May 8, 1998

By Dan MacIntosh

HOLLYWOOD, CA - The Mavericks have garnered a lot of attention of late for their musical adventurousness, and that side of the group was in plain view in concert.

This is a band daring enough to take a stab at almost any old style-from lounge anthems, like Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" to a big band variation on "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down," a song better known as Merle Haggard's country ode to the medicinal affects of booze.

Its most recent album, "Trampoline," solidified this eclectic reputation by exploring territory well beyond the Tex-Mex and country borders the group stayed safely within on its first two albums.

Beginning with its third album, "Music for All Occasions," though, The Mavericks began to tiptoe across the sometimes limiting artistic boundaries of country music.

The band indulged in a series of pop, jazz and soul experiments for about the first half of the show. Although the audience may have been unfamiliar with a large chunk of these uncharacteristic tunes, this veteran unit - led by the good-humored showmanship of lead singer Raul Malo-presented these fresh compositions with the kind of onstage playfulness such lightweight tunes require, as these "new songs" often recalled those carefree days before pop music discovered social and political commentary.

Eclecticism isn't The Mavericks' greatest strength, though. Midway through the show, Malo ventured center stage, armed only with his acoustic guitar and his wondrous vocal cords.

As the rest of the band took a short break (including the four-piece horn section dubbed "The Havana Horns"), Malo's voice, and not all of The Mavericks' new stylistic colors, became the audience's only focus.

Beginning his brief three song interlude with "Dream River" (from the new album and the soundtrack to "The Horse Whisperer"), and ending it-appropriately on this moonlit night-with a cover of "Blue Moon," Malo simply enraptured the gathered fans with his effortless singing, as he bathed these ballads in his sweet vibrato and stretched their melodies with his confident range.

Shortly thereafter, the group concluded its show by encoring with a bouncy string of country hits drawn mainly form with the band's first two albums. The three-quarters full house reveled in the chance to get up and dance to these spiritedly upbeat love songs. The band appeared to be rewarding the audience for its patience, since the diehards had to wade through a section of everything BUT country, earlier in the program.

It may be hard to predict which musical off-ramp The Mavericks will detour to next, but as long as Malo is behind the wheel, it ought to be well worth the adventure.

The Derailers, from Austin, Texas, opened the show with a disappointing half-hour of traditional country music. Although Brian Hofeldt's guitar work sparked the foursome's Bakersfield-influenced songs, lead singer Tony Villanueva's poor singing distracted listeners from fully enjoying these well-played songs.

Villanueva should invest in some much-needed singing lessons to improve his breathing techniques because his voice was constantly trailing off at the end of many key phrases when it could have been boldly selling the song.

These flaws became even more apparent as soon as an exceptional singer like Malo took vocal command with The Mavericks.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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