(Valory Music Co.)
4 out of 5 stars
The motto “back to mono” is commonly attributed to Phil Spector, whose widescreen 60s productions blasted out of tiny transistor radios with a power and grandeur that still hasn’t been duplicated. The Mavericks take Spector’s words to heart on the follow-up to 2013’s surprisingly terrific comeback, capturing their jaunty, jumping sound in pure mono. It’s a brave, unusual approach; one that works perfectly with the band’s increasingly retro yet far from stale style.
Although once considered country, the Mavericks have been too eclectic and creatively restless to be neatly pigeonholed into any single genre. They have now stripped most strains of what many would consider traditional C&W from their music. The Latin, R&B, rockabilly, Tex-Mex and Cuban influences always present are now the major elements that underlie Raul Malo’s mellifluous, Roy Orbison-inspired vocals. For Mono, they also bring in jittery classic Jamaican ska and reggae to their expanding trick bag. The result is a frothy, frisky party album that, with its horns and soulful rhythms, should keep your next shindig hopping.
Malo still hangs on to his ballads. Here he includes three; the sweet, accordion enhanced “Fascinate Me” which may tilt a little too closely to Johnny Mathis territory, the honeyed Orbison-esque “Let it Rain” with its cool saxes and the sweeping slow dance “Pardon Me.” But the rest of this buoyant disc is all dance floor filling, upbeat and peppy 60s-inflected pop that includes a bluesy, Coasters styled “Do You Want Me To” and a closing nod to one of the band’s most obvious inspirations in a cover of Doug Sahm’s “Nitty Gritty.”
The nearly overdub free mono recording captures the quartet’s taut, tight pocket augmented by The Fantastic Four backing musicians that add horns, accordion and even tuba to the festivities. There is a vibrant exuberance to these performances that, like its old-school audio, feels alive and fresh making the Mavericks one of the few bands better in their second act than in their first.