Squeeze Box King
Around the World with Flaco
Flaco Jiménez has pushed norteño (or, as it's known north of the border, Tex-Mex) music as far as it might ever go without sacrificing its plaintive and earthy aura. He's played the traditional polkas and waltzes in an old-world conjunto group featuring his accordion, along with bass, drums, and the twelvestring bajo sexto guitar. He's collaborated with rock stars and been an integral part of the genre's first and only supergroup, the Texas Tornados, featuring Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, and Augie Meyers.
But it took Jiménez until this delightful 2003 release to make an overt lunge for total world domination. The album opens with "En el cielo no hay cerveza" (In Heaven There Is No Beer), the polka standard, sung in English, Spanish, and Dutch. While the multiple languages are a novelty, the music underneath them is anything but: Jiménez plays the polka straight, cultivating a chipper party-time atmosphere that transcends words. Then he saunters into a playful Colombian cumbia, "Tan solo," executed with an offhand mastery of the journeying, horse-and-buggy syncopations. Those who've never been inclined to dance to cumbia might give this tune a try: It's almost impossible to stand still while it's playing. (The same goes for just about everything on this set, which gently gooses norteño tradition.)
Even the slow-dance songs are transfixing. Jiménez's gentle, patient covers of Cuban boleros and durable rancheras like "La tormenta" (The Storm) and "La rosa negra" (The Black Rose) tell sorrowful stories about the loss of love, set at a deliberate pulse that heightens the bittersweetness of the lyrics.
Genre: World, Mexico
Released: 2003, Compadre
Key Tracks: "En el cielo no hay cerveza," "Tan solo," "La tormenta"
Catalog Choice: Texas Tornados; Ay te dejo en San Antonio
Next Stop: Vicente Fernández: The Living Legend
After That: Freddy Fender: Twentieth Century Masters: The Best of Freddy Fender
Book Page: 397