¡Viva el mariachi!

Cano's, Nati Mariachi los Camperos

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When Linda Ronstadt went searching for musicians to help with her Mexican folk song project Canciones de mi padre, she sought the services of Nati Cano, the leader of the Los Angeles–based Mariachi los Camperos. Cano has been a force in mariachi music for more than forty years—both as a one-man preservation society honoring mariachi tradition, and an innovator on the bandstand striving to give age-old Mexican folk songs a contemporary jolt.

Cano proved indispensable to the Ronstadt project. And, as he acknowledges in the liner notes of this fantastic recording, he benefited in return: The album and successful tour furthered his quest to bring concert-hall respect to mariachi, a sound regarded by many in the U.S. merely as pleasant accompaniment to quesadillas and salsa.

¡Viva el mariachi!, a crisply recorded compilation of Cano's recordings from the 1990s, is a perfect way to encounter mariachi head-on. It showcases Cano's suave band playing songs that are standards of the repertoire—"Ojitos verdes," "Paloma negra"—as well as lesser known boleros, rancheras, and tunes derived from the Cuban son.

The ranchera songs hail from the Mexican countryside and, as interpreted by Cano, exude the feeling of open space, along with the desolation felt by those who have lots of time to ponder a vanished love. The boleros, which are typically even more sentimental, come across as forlorn confessions—check Luis Damian's vocal on "La malagueña" to hear falsetto singing at a keening, carefully controlled peak.

Many of the tracks revolve around intricate three-and four-part harmony, and wistful accordion. They're musical expressions of gallantry, and in the hands of a master like Cano, they take mariachi from the back room at a Mexican restaurant to the concert hall, revealing all the deepest, most profoundly soul-stirring aspects of the music along the way.

Genre: World, Mexico
Released: 2002, Smithsonian Folkways
Key Tracks: "Ojitos verdes," "Paloma negra," "La malagueña."
Catalog Choice: Llegaron los Camperos: Concert Favorites of Nati Cano
Next Stop: Linda Ronstadt: Canciones de mi padre
After That: Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán: Ultimate Collection
Book Page: 141

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#1 from Mike - 06/28/2010 3:09

I have been working through the book for over a year now, 224 recordings down.  This was a great find, and also the first I decided to write about at my blog, tracking all the recordings as I go through them.  Thanks for a great project!

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