The Mavericks’ Moon & Stars

cover, Moon & StarsThe Mavericks’ Moon & Stars is the music you put on as the cookout is winding down on a perfect summer night, the music to chill with as you finish that final beverage and talk quietly with your friends as you watch the light fade and the stars come out. It’s pleasant, soulful Latin-tinged Americana that just doesn’t wear out its welcome.

The Mavericks have been around long enough to be take for granted. They were a powerhouse on country radio and even crossed over into pop a time or two in the ’90s and early 2000s, powered by strong songwriting, Latin flavored arrangements, and especially the operatic baritone of frontman and chief songwriter Raul Malo. Thirteen albums and a couple of decades in, Malo still has the strongest and most beautiful male voice in pop music since Roy Orbison, to whom he’s often been compared.

The main single “Live Close By (Visit Often)” features a duet with Nicole Atkins. It was co-written by Malo with K.T. Oslin and originally released on her album of the same title. It totally kicks culo and is the most boisterous tune on the 11-track album, all of the songs written or co-written by Malo and featuring a talented slate of guest vocalists. Plus a rock solid core of Mavericks who’ve been with Malo for a long time both on the road and in studios: guitarist Eddie Perez, keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden, and drummer Paul Deakin. Add to that a three-part horn section and of course an accordion for that sweet Tex-Mex atmosphere and there’s just so much to like about this record.

Starting from that base of Latino Americana, each of these tracks adds its own diverse elements that makes each stand out. The title track, with Sierra Ferrell joining on vocals, has a lovely tropical paradise atmosphere from Afro-Cuban percussion playing a languid rumba beat, a Tex-Mex accordion arrangement, and airy reverb on the soaring vocals. “Look Around You” with Maggie Rose, digs into Muscle Shoals country soul sounds with wah-wah guitar, sweet backing vocals and horns, all quite like Los Lobos covering Otis Redding, plus a hopeful message of human connection. “Without A Word” plays with mariachi sounds and funky, grinding East L.A. soul, complete with swaggering bari sax and stabbing distorted bluesy guitars. “Overnight Success” is a playful Tex-Mex ditty that could’ve been a hit for Freddy Fender or Doug Sahm — it’s great to see Malo carrying on that particular legacy. “A Guitar And A Bottle Of Wine” somehow reminds me of Ricky Nelson in his Stone Canyon Band era, a sad, dreamy crooner with a tinge of swamp in its pop. “The Name Of The Game” treads on Calexico territory, a slightly ominous, noir-ish slow rocker with lots of twang, mariachi horns and accordion, all set to a deceptively bouncy two-step beat.

The opening and closing bookends are particularly strong, too. It kicks off with the slowly loping Marty Robbins style Western noir of “The Years Will Not Be Kind,” with Malo on solo vocals in his lower register. Both thematically and in terms of performance, one thinks involuntarily of Johnny Cash’s later years and Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child. And it wraps with “Turn Yourself Around,” A strongly Beatles inspired song that was recorded, appropriately, on Ringo Starr’s birthday at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios. Malo is proud to fly his Beatles fan flag.

“The Beatles were so influential in this band’s musical development,” he says, “and a song like ‘Turn Yourself Around’ couldn’t have happened at any other time than right now. We’ve spent years establishing our own thing, our own sound, our own community. Now, we feel like it’s OK to venture out and have some fun, too. If you’re not going to do it today, then when? And who better to do fun stuff than us?”

I’ve always followed The Mavericks somewhat from afar, as an admirer more than a fan. I think the only Mavericks related song I’ve owned is Malo’s superb rendition of “Hot Burrito *1” on the Return of the Grievous Angel Gram Parsons tribute album. And I’ll be damned if Moon & Stars hasn’t made me an actual fan. Put it on your summer playlist and I bet it’ll do the same for you.

(Mono Mundo Recordings/Thirty Tigers, 2024)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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