Don’t be surprised if there have been rumblings in a few celebrity graveyards from Memphis to Montgomery, given The Mavericks have marked their 30th anniversary by releasing a majestic album of greatest hits! No, not their hits, but a collection of covers, matter-of-factly titled The Mavericks Play the Hits.
And who better to put his mark on some of the greatest hits ever recorded than one of the signature voices of Americana music, Raul Malo, frontman and co-founder of The Mavericks.
Malo told No Depression how the band finally nailed exactly what 11 classics they should choose for the album: “One of the most important criteria is what the band can do with the song, what can we do to make it our own and make it sound like it came from us.”
And make his mark, Malo certainly does! Few baritones can sound as good as Malo at his best, so it is not a big ask for The Mavericks to stamp their DNA on work made famous by the likes of Hank, Elvis, The Boss, Willie and Waylon! And for a band that was founded in Miami - and have always had Latino traits - add some Tex-Mex too!
Waylon’s seventies classic “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” starts with horns and ends with a smattering of Joe Cocker! Now Hank wouldn’t have done it that way. But, listening to Malo’s pure vocals, he would probably approve! Waylon too, would somehow be foot-tapping.
Bruce’s “Hungary Heart” is also defined as a song by The Mavericks, rather than the E Street Band. Malo explained to No Depression: “It’s a fun exercise. You kind of have to pretend a little bit, pretend like ‘Hungry Heart’ wasn’t a big hit and you just got a demo from Springsteen and this is the song he just wrote and you’re gonna cover it. That’s how we approached these songs.”
So how does he do Elvis? Sort of Vegas, is probably the best way to describe how The Mavericks handle “Don’t Be Cruel”. Malo ain’t Elvis, but he doesn’t really pretend to be!
The pace is somewhat different and the delivery more intimate in the two classic country cross-overs “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” Malo has “Blues Eyes Crying …” all to himself and strums as softly as he sings the Willie classic. His version of “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” stays true to the great Freddie Fender, as you might expect from a musician with Cuban roots.
There is one guest spot on the album, with Martina McBride teaming up to nicely harmonise with Malo on the Marvin Gaye hit “Once Upon A Time.” Again the production is designed to suit The Mavericks and Martina kind of synthesizes!
The album’s opening track, “Swingin” - a somewhat jazzy cover of John Anderson’s 1983 hit - was released as a single in August while the The Mavricks were in the middle of a 30th anniversary tour. “I’ve loved this song since I first heard it way back when. I love the lyrics and I love John’s delivery,” Malo told Rolling Stone.
As might be expected, there have been changes to the line-up over 30 years, though two co-founders – Malo and drummer Paul Deakin – remain. They are joined by long-term keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden and guitarist Eddie Perez. And on this album there are a number of big-name guest musicians, including harmonica-ace Mickey Raphael and Michael Guerra, on accordion and percussion.
All in all, they contribute to what in the end is a very sophisticated production that further establishes The Mavericks as a classic act, ideally suited to interpret classics as they know best.
Track list for The Mavericks Play the Hits, with the “hit” artist of each song: 1. “Swingin’” – John Anderson 2. “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” – Waylon Jennings 3. “Blame It on Your Heart” – Patty Loveless 4. “Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me)” – Ray Price 5. “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” – Freddy Fender 6. “Hungry Heart ” – Bruce Springsteen 7. “Why Can’t She Be You” – Patsy Cline 8. “Once Upon a Time” (with Martina McBride) – Marvin Gaye & Mary Wells 9. “Don’t Be Cruel ” – Elvis Presley 10. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” – Willie Nelson 11. “I’m Leaving It Up to You” – Dale & Grace
Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation.