August 16, 1996 in Seven

Breaking Through Mavericks And Junior Brown Get Together For A Show That Promise To Whack Open All Your Preconceptions About What Country Music Is And Isn’t

Don Adair Correspondent
 

For a while now, the big tent that is country music has been narrow in the middle and wide at the edges. While a bunch of folks with big hats huddle in the center, a bigger group works the edges. The big-hat folks make it on the radio with hits that all sound alike, while the others ply their eccentric trade out of the limelight. They’re lucky if CMT picks them up now and again. But, look out! There’s a stirring right there where the innies and the outties come together, and it looks like a handful of the outties are elbowing their way to the middle.

Can it be that the Nashville monolith that has controlled country music for the past decade has begun to crack? Are some of those deserving outcasts beginning to get a shot at wider recognition?

Keep your fingers crossed, folks, because if the two groups appearing at the Masonic Temple Sunday (the concert has been moved from Riverfront Park) are any indication, country music is on the verge of the breakthrough it so badly needs.

This is the twin-bill of the summer - the Mavericks and Junior Brown, two of the freshest acts in all of country-dom, together for a show that promises to whack open all your preconceptions about what country music is and isn’t.

In an age when five years is a country music career, both acts look back decades for inspiration. And both got invites to the Grammies this year: The Mavericks won for “Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal,” while Brown just missed the best-video award for his song, “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead.”

Adding to the evidence that there’s still hope for country music, the Mavericks pulled down Top Vocal Group honors this year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.

You’ll even hear them on the radio these days with their Tex-Mex remake of the old Buck Owens tune “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down.” The Mavericks blasted out of the Florida punk scene in the ‘80s with a rootsy sound that owes as much to Merle Haggard as it does Roy Orbison, as much to Buck Owens as Elvis Presley.

Led by the velvet-voiced Raul Malo, the Mavericks pick through a melange of influences - rockabilly, rock, Tex-Mex and Latin. But the heart that beats inside it always is country.

Sometimes as dreamy as an Everly Brothers hit and sometimes as goofy as a Buck Owens novelty number, the Mavericks’ music is not beholden in any way to Nashville convention. They call it “martini country” and sometimes it swings, sometimes it slams and sometimes it grooves, but, always, it is fun.

“Simple, grand fun,” as Malo would say.

There’s another side to the Mavericks - the Cuban expatriate side. One of their most moving tunes is Malo’s “From Hell To Paradise” which recounts his family’s emigration to the States.

“I cursed and scratched the devil’s hand/As he stood in front of me,” Malo sings of Castro. “One last drag from his big cigar/And he finally set me free.”

If on record their music is sometimes mannered and too precise, the Mavericks thrive onstage, where they aim to recreate the every-night’s-a party feel of vintage Springsteen concerts.

Stealing a page from the Springsteen songbook, they range far and wide for material to cover in their frenzied encores. In June, at a date in Los Angeles, they covered Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie,” Elvis’ “The Wonder of You” and Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.”

Junior Brown is another case altogether. The Arizona native grew up the son of music lovers who wouldn’t let him own a guitar - it represented the “wrong kind” of music.

By 16, he was on his own, sleeping under bridges and picking up gigs playing guitar in country bands.

His own tastes gravitated to old-time country with a whacked-out twist. He sings an a basso profundo which will remind you of Ernest Tubbs or Ray Price and in the grand tradition of the country novelty singers, he writes about ordinary folks whose lives aren’t quite tucked in around the edges.

One of his best-loved songs is “Gotta Get Up Every Morning (Just to Say Goodnight to You),” the saga of a fellow whose wife likes to party. “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” is about (what else?) a former lover and “Joe the Singing Janitor” concerns a simple fellow who loves music but can’t “carry a tune in a bucket,” though he carries that bucket with pride.

But Brown’s story isn’t as simple as great songs - he’s also a killer guitar player who invented his own “guit-steel,” a twin-necked instrument that allows him to switch in a heartbeat between conventional electric guitar and pedal steel, and he uses it to cover surf hits and screaming Jimi Hendrix licks.

He fronts a minimalistic band - a stand-up bass, a drummer who plays a single snare and his wife, Tanya Rae, who sings and plays acoustic guitar - and though he can’t quite match the movie-star looks of the current crop of country heroes, he and his band make a noise that will convince you there’s more to country music than what you can hear on the radio. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MAVERICKS/JUNIOR BROWN Location and time: Masonic Temple (previously scheduled at Riverfront Park), Sunday 7 p.m. Tickets: $20/$5 for kids 12 and under.

This sidebar appeared with the story: MAVERICKS/JUNIOR BROWN Location and time: Masonic Temple (previously scheduled at Riverfront Park), Sunday 7 p.m. Tickets: $20/$5 for kids 12 and under.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email