The Mavericks Offer a Clever Take on ‘Play the Hits’

The Mavericks, Play the Hits, (4 out of 5 stars)

Videos by American Songwriter

(Mono Mundo Recordings)

The title of this Mavericks’ recording is clever and witty. It is also deceptive as the eleven hits here aren’t theirs, rather they are songs that inspired the veteran country/Tex-Mex/country/rockabilly act before and during its 30-year and counting run.

Most of the songs are what would be considered “oldies” but anyone that has listened to the music The Mavericks have put out over the decades knows that they aren’t going to just copy the originals. Instead, the often substantially rearranged covers sound like originals, which is precisely the point.

The Mavericks are not simply playing these classics but reinventing them while remaining true to the melodies and overall feeling that attracted the band to these gems initially. 

To that end, Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” gets a frisky reverbed ska slant and Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells’ sweet Motown duet “Once Upon a Time” is infused with jazzy vibes and echoed guitar. Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel” finds its Mexican heart with accordion and swinging horns while Waylon Jennings probably wouldn’t recognize his own swampy “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” gussied up with a soulful sheen and horns out of Elvis’ Vegas review. Hank Cochran’s “Why Can’t She Be You” loses the schlocky backing vocals that timestamp his version in mid-60’s Nashville yet maintains its powerful melody and heartbreaking lyrics. 

Some selections are from likely sources such as Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” (sung partially in Spanish) done in a lovely acoustic version and Harlan Howard by way of Patty Loveless’ “Blame It On Your Heart” which successfully trades its pedal steel and overall twang for a more Latin approach. The closing “I’m Leaving It Up to You” (first performed by writers Don Harris and Dewey Terry, but probably best known in its Donny and Marie form) delivers a sorely needed blues rocking punch. The only debit is that a lovely Raul Malo unaccompanied “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” should have been saved for a Malo solo album since none of the other Mavericks contribute to it. 

Hopefully fans of the group who might already own their catalog will read the outside sticker explaining the “hits” the Mavericks are playing are not their own. And even if this is a stopgap release to buy time for writing new material, it’s a cool, fun and even informative set that’s as entertaining as the rest of the band’s work. 

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