Sunday, May 4, 2003

Look out Nashville: Mavericks are back

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Like a Broadway show ironing out the kinks with out-of-town previews, the Mavericks launched their comeback Thursday night at Newport's Southgate House. After a three-year hiatus, the group played their old hits, some unusual covers and a couple of new songs to a small-but-adoring crowd of 300.

With no pressure (that would be over the weekend at Nashville's River Stages fest, with the eyes of the industry on them), the band turned the night into a loose, rocking party celebrating bassist Robert Reynolds' April 30 birthday.

Things sometimes got a little too loose, as when singer/guitarist Raul Malo forgot the words and had to stop in the middle of the gorgeous ballad, "Foolish Heart."

Malo joked about the disaster potential on the band's "first night out ... As long as you guys don't hold your standards up too high and get drunk, we'll be all right."

But even the rough edges were a nice change from the slick fare that passes for country music nowadays. Not that the Mavericks' music is particularly "country." Bolstered by a three-man horn section, and a guitarist and keyboardist, the Mavericks sound is still all over the map, literally.

"Dance the Night Away" was a tropical cocktail of mariachi trumpets and scratchy ska beats. "Missing You" was a heartbreak ballad of epic proportions.

They kept the dance floor moving with their rocking take on Bruce Springsteen's "All That Heaven Will Allow" and the honky tonk shuffle of "There Goes My Heart."

But though they gave their fans plenty of Mavericks classics, the new stuff is not in the same league.

"Would You Believe" takes the Mavs' love of goofy '60s pop-rock a little too far, while "Time Goes By," though a decent bit of countrified soul, lacks the distinctive touch of vintage Mavericks.

That said, Malo remains the finest male singer to come out of Nashville in more than a decade. He proved it again Thursday, on beautiful solo versions of "Besame Mucho" and his own "Dream River."

Best of all was his powerful, autobiographical "From Hell to Paradise," about the Cuban community in Miami where he grew up. It led into a lilting version of the unofficial Cuban national anthem, "Guantanamera."

Encores were just as far-flung, opening with the 1962 Isley Brothers hit, "Twist and Shout" (though the band's version was pure Beatles), going on to the midtempo Mavericks ballad, "What a Crying Shame," and closing the 105-minute show with the band's ultimate rave-up, "All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down."

Not bad for starters. Let's hope they're back to stay.

Nashville songwriter Mark McGuinn opened with 25 minutes of solo voice and guitar that, though it included his hit, "Mrs. Steven Rudy," was so low-key and laid-back he almost wasn't there.


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