Sometimes it’s all about riding the rhythm. When the Mavericks rolled through their set at the Rhythm & Roots Festival a couple of years ago, their songs had plenty of hooks, but it was the thrust driving the action that had the crowd juiced up. When you hear ’em on the radio they’re a sing-along band. Melodies galore. But when you’re standing in front of them onstage, they’re a propulsion outfit. Shuffles, rumba, bluebeat, and swing are all part of the mix – maybe even some implied funk. And of course the kind of pop momentum that drives the insistent guitar strumming of their their update of “Here Comes My Baby.”
They’re back at this year’s R&R Fest, closing the kickoff night’s offerings, a spot meant for an act that can leave the crowd sweaty and exhuberent. Some of that fervor has to do with the charisma that pours from Raul Malo’s voice. A powerhouse vocalist, he lets loose a clarion call when leading the band through their set. Could be a honky-tonk bounce, might be a tejano-inflected romp. There’s an operatic element to his singing, and it’s often earned righteous comparisons Roy Orbison – a mix of guts and grandeur that becomes unmistakable when he lights into a shimmering piece of balladry like the Cuban standard “La Sitiera.” Malo’s pipes are key to the Mavericks’ impact; he rides the grooves in all sorts of ways. When he flows through the lyrics of “Be My Guest,” the N’awlins swag gets nudged front and center. (Maybe that’s just what happens when your horn section includes an accordionist.) Watching him lead the band through a set that stretches from Springsteen to ska should be a blast. Wonder if they still do that crackerjack cover of Van’s “Bright Side of the Road”?
Nothing but strong music the entire weekend. Rosanne Cash, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Natalie MacMaster, Marcia Ball, Steve Riley, the Pine Leaf Boys and lots more.