Category Archives: Reviews

Best American Poetry Features Tomas Q. Morin

Are you a fan of poetry, or perhaps, someone who hopes to become a poet, or even a writer of some sort? Well, my friend and poet, Tomas Q. Morin is featured as a guest blogger all this week at Best American Poetry.

Tomas recently published his first collection of poetry, A Larger Country, which was the winner of the 2012 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. So, yeah, he’s the real deal, plus he’s a pretty awesome dude.

He’s already got his first couple of posts up, I Be Monsters and Workshop Days, which provide us a look into his early days of writing. And I thought I was the king of self-criticism.

Some of these poems, in spite of how poorly made they were, brought my mother to tears when she read them because there we were, our family, our struggles, on a piece of paper. It was a record, albeit a weak one, that we had lived and suffered and were still here.

Check him out, and don’t forget to buy his collection, A Larger Country, at your favorite bookstore.

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DC Reviews: Jay Perez ~ New Horizons

The Voice, Jay Perez, is back with a new production, New Horizons. The 12-song release is quite the piece of work, produced by Grammy-winning Gilbert Velasquez and supported by Freddie Records. Perez’s recent works have been on mostly indie labels, but his new label provides a lot of backing in regards to marketing and promotions. The tried-and-true Perez style is not lost as Velasquez has worked with Perez many times before–even being a part of his original band.

Kicking off with Tu Ultima Cancion, Jay’s fans immediately hear the signature ranchera sound–keys, sax, acordeon and a hard-driving beat, and some great lyrics giving someone the kiss-off. Known for his slowed-down,  acordeon-driven zapateadas, Perez does not disappoint with the first single, Lo Tengo Que Admitir, an ode to the girl who gave him everything.

And the cumbia stylings do not disappoint, either, with their R&B flair. Demuestrame, with it’s catchy chorus, and Vivir Sin Ti, will definitely be live favorites. Especially Vivir, with some awesome percussion providing the rhythm.

Perez brings out a horn section, a-la Latin Breed, to give us a fine ballad, Tu Amor No Me Pertenece. The guitar, horns, and acordeon provide a smooth foundation on which Perez provides a soaring vocal.

Perez offers up plenty more signature rancheras to keep toes tapping and feet on the dance floor. Tengo Miedo and Dos Caras with some powerful lyrics and smooth rhythms are some personal favorites. But Perez also dusts off a couple of songs previously done by the late Laura Canales during her comeback in the 90s. Amor Escondido,with a driving sax solo, and Yo Quiero Que Vivas Conmigo are very welcome by this Laura Canales fan.

Finally, Quien Te Dijo and Tu Partida close out the catalog on rancheras, showing Perez is very committed to keeping La Onda Tejana alive and kicking ass. Partida with an excellent sax/acordeon solo, and Quien Te Dijo with a driving ranchera rhythm. Finally, Perez closes the release with an R&B tune, All of Me, which shows off his vocal abilities.

Providing the power behind all of the tracks was Perez with some of the best vocals I’ve heard from him. The man just knows how to deliver lyrics in a way that makes the listener feel their meaning. Combined with a tight band, he is also able to deliver these songs live like few can.

Get your copy at just about any store that features Latin music, or online at Freddie Records.

Gregg Barrios Interviews James Franco

Yes, my friend Gregg Barrios, the playwright, interviewed THAT James Franco. Apparently, Franco just published a book of poetry. Gregg explains it best.

YOU KNOW WHO James Franco is. He is a household name, an award-winning actor, the sexiest person on the planet. But that was then. The 34-year-old Franco has been turning a new page in his life, walking down roads not previously taken as a teacher, a poet, and a writer.

His collection of short fiction, Palo Alto (2010), was praised by writers as diverse as Amy Hempel and Gary Shteyngart. Now he has published his first chapbook of poetry, as well:Strongest of the Litter (2012). The award-winning poet Frank Bidart (who advised Franco on the arrangement of the poems) calls Litter “a superb, touching debut.”

Go read the interview at the Los Angeles Review of Books. And congrats to Gregg on a major coup of an interview!

DC Reviews ~ Michael Guerra Band

Some may know accordion ace Michael Guerra from his days with Los Texmaniacs, Ruben Ramos, Rick Trevino, the Tex-Mex Experience, or his session appearances with Los Lobos, the Texas Tornados, Los Lonely Boys, or others. His recent work with Raul Malo and, now, The Mavericks, are what caught my attention in recent years. The guy is just plain good, as he’s been playing accordion since his mid-teens. Beyond that, he can play several other instruments, truly making his stage presence known.

Guerra and his band just released their debut and self-titled CD. Guerra has produced a style all his own, yet, one cannot help but notice the various influences, be it conjunto, rock, blues, mariachi, or country. It’s all in this eclectic production which fuses into something better than most attempts at “latin fusion.” This one has a special vibe to it.

Kicking off with Voodoo Lady, one notices the rock influences, with Robert Ybarra’s haunting guitar blending with Guerra’s accordion. One may think Los Lonely Boys, thus making the tune quite Texican, but it’s all Guerra and his band. The country tune, My Love’s Too Big (To Fail) caught my attention with the title (I’m in politics, sue me!). In this tune, one immediately notices Guerra’s San Anto influence.

The Los Lobos’ musical influence pops out with La Prietita Loca, with its cumbia rhythm. Of course, the hook, “La Prietita baila muy suave…pero cuando se junta con las chicas se pone muy loca,” is quite catchy. Dreams Gone Blue has a country-mariachi-trio feel to it with some excellent lyrics–and it sounds like it could have been picked up off the cutting-room floor of a Raul Malo CD and given its own flavor.

Let’s Try seems to have a style all its own with a slow rock groove, and is a good introducer to The Who’s Mama’s Got a Squeezebox. The Who could have used a Michael Guerra back then, who really shows off his technique on this tune, as done Ybarra on the guitar solo. On the next tune, Guerra returns to a country-esque/mariachi style with Break Away. The old-style music with modern lyrics make this a favorite.

Guerra does not forget the music that put him on the map–conjunto. And Que Viva Mi San Antonio provides a nice tune with quite the visual of partying in San Anto. Showing his partiality to trio/mariachi stylings, Guerra belts out the classic La Barca backed up by his acordeon, guitars and requinto, showing off his vocal abilities.

The bluesy-rock tune You Set Me Free shows off Ybarra’s guitar again, while telling the story of being set free by a woman who seems to have made the wrong choice.  Ain’t it always the way?

Guerra’s biggest influence and the reason for his music career is his dad Elias. Mike began toiling on various instruments before picking up the instrument that set the path for his career–the acordeon. That said, Mike brings in his dad for the final tune, Dame Un Nuevo Corazon, a gospel song with an acordeon-heavy bolero feel.

It is safe to say that this production is a venture through Guerra’s various influences, yet, it is his signature accordion which sets it apart. This is a great first full production for Guerra. Of course, he’ll have a hard time touring to support it since he’s working hard with The Mavericks at the moment. No doubt, he is going through some career-building experiences.

DC Review: The Mavericks at Gruene Hall

I took some time out of my schedule to check out The Mavericks at Gruene Hall on Friday night. On a U.S. tour that has cemented their return to the music scene after years apart, Raul Malo and The Mavericks are back and stronger than ever.

The Mavericks have enjoyed their  return, playing some major country music festivals around the country. At Gruene Hall, though, they enjoyed a small, more intimate and somewhat eclectic crowd of Raul Malo and Mavericks loyalists. And The Mavericks responded with a powerful show.

Kicking off with 2012’s Back in Your Arms Again, they immediately went into a string of recently released tunes from their EP, Suited Up and Ready, and even included a tune from the upcoming full-length release titled Lies. After Born To Be Blue and Come on To Me, the Mavericks went through a memorable repertoire of their early hits (Pretend, I Said I Love You, Every Little Thing About You, and There Goes My Heart to name a few) while throwing in some tunes from Malo’s solo career, such as Moonlight Kiss.

Come time for a set break, Malo remained on stage as he usually has done, and provided the crowd a slowed-down version of Oh What A Thrill. He called up one of the best additions to the band, acordeonista Michael Guerra, and together, they belted out Besame Mucho.

The responsive crowd was also provided with musical treats, such as Twist and Shout and the tried and true Volver, Volver. The latter becoming a sing-a-long.

The encore brought them back for a short set, which included a tune from Malo’s last solo release, Sinners and Saints, and the classic All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down.

Between Raul Malo’s vocals, Eddie Perez’s guitaristics, Michael Guerra’s sweet acordeon, Jerry Dale McFadden’s keyboards, Paul Deakin’s drumming, Elio Giordano’s upright bass artistry, Robert Reynolds acoustic guitar and harmonies, and a mighty fine horn section (including a trumpet playing virtuoso who had just joined the band), it was a music-filled night–powerful, tight, and oh so right.

As someone who truly enjoyed the Raul Malo solo years, it is good to see The Mavericks back together. Whatever differences they had that lead to a break-up, on Friday night, it seemed like the formula still works. The guys looked like they were having fun on stage and they responded to the crowd like they always have–with energy and a lot of love. It was an experience.

Now, the new EP has soothed Mavericks fans, but much has been asked about the full-length release, In Time. Back in July, they announced a September 25 release; however, Valery Music, their new label, announced a change to January to align with the start of their 2013 World Tour. After a few more dates this year, Malo takes off on a solo holiday tour up east.

What they say is true, Gruene Hall is an awesome venue for bands that have a relationship with the crowd. I wonder what the Saturday show was like?

Houston – 33rd Annual Festival Chicano in October

That’s right! The best three-day Tejano/Chicano music fest in Houston, the 33rd Festival Chicanois back on October 4, 5, and 6 at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Thanks to Daniel Bustamante, the 33rd year of this Festival will be just as awesome as the 32 before it.

The line-up this year is pretty stellar:

THURSDAY, October 4th – Jaime y Los Chamacos, Ruben Ramos & The Mexican Revolution, Avizo
FRIDAY, October 5th – Little Joe y La Familia, Gary Hobbs, AJ Ybarra y Los Bandoleros
SATURDAY, October 6th – Emilio Navaira, Hermanos Farias, Marquel

As always, all shows are FREE, curtains up at 7pm! — at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Obviously, the return of Emilio Navaira is something that is awaited, but since I’ve recently reviewed the new release of Los Hermanos Farias, they deserve a plug. Of course, I’m also interested in checking out former Musicales vocalist, Marqell, who has a pretty good single, Esperate.

Little Joe is back, and he has played at almost every single one of these fests. El Borrado de Eagle Pass, Gary Hobbs, never fails to put on a strong live performance, as well as Los Chamacos. The legendary Ruben Ramos and the Mexican Revolution will surely blow everyone away with their horn section, as will local boys, The Powerhouse – Avizo.

Most in attendance are, well, Chicanos. It would do politicos well to go press the flesh as each night will attract around 15,000 people.

DC Reviews ~ Los Hermanos Farias: Back on Track

Growing up, one of my first cassettes was of Los Hermanos Farias, a roots-style conjunto that had a lot of radio play in South Texas. All of a sudden, I started hearing about a “new” group called La Tropa F. It was just a more modern Hermanos Farias, but they hit it big during the 90s hey-day of Tejano music.

It was recently when I started seeing YouTubes of the two leads, David and Joe Farias, performing at various venues, and wondered if a big reunion was going to happen. Sure enough, we heard there was a reunion and a new CD in the works back in 2011. Back on Track is that project and after five years of not playing together, they have taken it back to their roots. David on the Acordeon, joe on the Bajo Sexto, another brother Juan with his distinctive “Tropa” drumming, and Oscar Garcia on the bass.

The new production opens with a Valerio Longoria classic, Los Albaniles, which lays the foundation for the rest of the music. One knows it will be a hard-core conjunto CD. The brothers waste no time in giving us a treat with Viejitas Pero Buenas Medley, which includes Cancion Mixteca, a classic which can never be overdone.

No strangers to cumbias, LHF follows it up with a corrido-turned-cumbia, Rosita Alvirez. El Sinaloense, a favorite huapango for mariachis, is turned into a rockin’ cumbia.

One gets a dose of “Tropa” stylings with El Muchacho Alegre and its familiar pasadita on the acordeon. And always experts on their boleros, David belts out Desde El Cielo, with Joe providing some nice harmonies. In fact, both share lead singing duties, which make them quite a versatile group. El Libre slows it down in this Bajo Sexto/Acordeon ballad, and Joe and David complementing each other.

Their musicianship really comes out in the instrumental El Viejito Special, which takes us through some classic polkitas. And you can’t go wrong with Joe’s intro. Piedras Del Campo is a Cuco Sanchez classic which is played to perfection as a polka ranchera.

Soledad, though, is an instant hit. With its intro effects and riffs on the bajo sexto and the sounds coming out of that acordeon, it will definitely be a crowd pleaser and dance floor favorite. David Farias belts out this tune solo.

With this production, the classic Farias sound returns. Of course, one might ask if David Farias will still be a Texmaniac, and all indications are that he is still committed to that project with Max Baca. But the Hermanos Farias have been  busy promoting this CD, which is a must-have for the collection.

Recorded on RoRecords, you can find it on many online outlets for your enjoyment. If you want good roots music played by some hard-core pros, then this is your CD.

TMA Results Officially Make Me An Old-Schooler

Well, the Tejano Music Awards have come and gone and it looks like the big winner was Elida Reyna of Valley-based group, Elida y Avante. Along with her four TMAs, there were a lot of “new” winners–some have been around a while, while others are names that have been floating around a little less.

Especially if you are an avid listener of Tejano internet radio (and those lucky ones in cities with Tejano radio stations), then you will know most, if not all, of the line-up of winners. But one thing is for sure, other than being an “Elida” fan, since she started her career, as well as The Hometown Boys, I think the results now make me an official old-schooler, since mega stars like Jay Perez (DC-Reviewed) didn’t end up with a TMA.

As easy as it would be, I won’t be a hater. I’ll just congratulate the winners, and maybe start opening my ears a little more. Bottom line, the prove that the Tejano-genre is not dying and that fans do indeed rule.

Here are the TMA winners:

32nd Annual Tejano Music Awards Winners:

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Elsa Garcia
Mingo Saldivar
Johnny Canales

Song of the Year – Juntos Hasta Morir – Elida Reyna & Jesse Turner

Male Vocalist of the Year – Jesse Turner (Siggno)

Female Vocalist of the Year – Elida Reyna

Entertainer of the Year – Elida Reyna

Album of the Year – Tejano – Lo Que Me Dejaste – Siggno

Album of the Year – Conjunto – Manteniendo La Promesa – The Hometown Boys

Vocal Duo of the Year – Elida Reyna & Jesse Turner – Juntos Hasta Morir

Best New Male – Ricky Valenz

Best New Female – Jessica Sanchez

Best New Group – Tejano Highway 281

Winning Duo:

Best New Female:  Jessica Sanchez

Best New Male:  Ricky Valenz

Best New Group:  Tejano Highway 281

Tejano Music Awards Tonight in S.A.

Tonight, the Illusions Theatre at the Alamodome will be the place at which to be.  The 32nd Annual Tejano Music Awards returns to the ‘dome to recognize the achievements of musicians in the Tejano music-genre.

And the nominees are…click on the link to find out.

While musicians and bands will be honored for productions created over the last year, the tradition of looking to the past to reach toward the future continues. Lifetime Achievement Awards will be presented to Tejano legends, Johnny Canales, Mingo Saldivar, and Houston’s own, Elsa Garcia.

Along with the awards, it will be a music-filled night. According to the Texas Talent Musicians Association:

The 32nd Annual Tejano Music Awards will begin with a star-studded Red Carpet reception that will play host to hundreds of fans, media and artists to include Grupo Siggno , Ruido Anejo, Ernie Salgado, Jesse Borrego, Elsa Garcia, Johnny Canales to name a few and performers. Some of Tejano music’s greatest bands and artists will be performing between the Awards presentations with many of them up for awards. Those scheduled to perform include:  Emilio Navaira, Ruben Ramos and the Texas Revolution, Jimmy Gonzalez y Grupo Mazz, Jay Perez, Stefani Montiel, David Lee Garza y Los Musicales, Gary Hobbs, Hometown Boys, Los Hermanos Farias, Michael Salgado, Ricardo Castillon y La Diferenzia, Shelly Lares, Mario Flores, Sunny Sauceda, and Avizo with Chris Q, Jerry Lopez and Al Muniz.  The Awards show will also carry performances by new and upcoming artists such as Ricky Valenz and Juaquin Cura as well as Tracy Perez, Jessica Sanchez and other surprise performances guaranteed to delight event attendees.  This year, the Tejano Music Awards will include a special twist to the event with performances by the all girl rock band, Girl in a Coma and a performance by Erick y Grupo Massore.

The magic begins at the red carpet at 4:30, with the show beginning at 6pm.

DosCentavos will be following some of the Twitter and Facebook action regarding the TMAs, so all you musicos who are on the social media, please keep us posted!

DC Reviews: Los Texmaniacs ~ Texas Towns and Tex-Mex Sounds

First of all, I want to see Los Texmaniacs do the intro and exit music for SA Mayor Julian Castro at the Democratic National Convention.

Secondly, Los Texmaniacs happen to be my favorite conjunto band. Led by the dexterous Bajo Sexto playing of Grammy Winner Max Baca and the acordeon of the legendary David Farias, they provide fans world-wide a variety of music. They can go from conjunto to country and back for some more. Drummer Lorenzo Martinez and Bassist Oscar Garcia provide the group some extra sabor with their intense playing. Martinez does double-duty playing the Guitarron on some of the tunes.

Texas Towns and Tex-Mex Sounds was produced by the good people at Smithsonian Folkways, and serves as Los Texmaniacs’ second compilation of classic hits on that label. And this time around, they push the envelope by adding some really neat classics to this 18-track recording.

The tried and true Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio launches this production, followed by the Lydia Mendoza classic Amor Bonito. But the Maniacs waste no time getting to the special tunes, givinng us a bajo-acordeon instrumental of the Marty Robbins classic, El Paso, combined with San Antonio Rose with Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel providing the vocals.

Much like 2010’s Grammy winning Borders y Bailes, Los Texmaniacs give us timeless instrumentals, such as Santiago Jimenez, Sr.’s Viva Seguin, the Mexican classic Antotonilco, and the vals, Salvador. But another instrumental gift is that of a Texas medley, featuring The Eyes of Texas and Deep in the Heart of Texas. With Farias on the acordeon, Bobby Flores on the fiddle, and Baca’s riffs on the Bajo, these are the tunes I’d like to see at the DNC (hint-hint).

Other canciones-polkas that are timeless include El Buque de Mas Potencia, and Por Una Mujer Casada. Baca penned the newer polkita, Ana Mia, which even has a video. The Texmaniacs also expertly provide us some smooth boleros, including Si Quieres Verme Llorar, Los Barandales del Puente, and Mil Besos (vocals byLorenzo Martinez). But the tune that really hits this heart is the corrido, El Contrabando de El Paso. Baca is also joined on vocals by Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel for an amazing rendition of Waltz Across Texas.

Many record companies have attempted to reignite the conjunto genre by selling the old stuff, and preserving our culture and music should be priority one. But Los Texmaniacs have taken it a step further by giving us these tunes in a soulful manner without the tunes losing their integrity. What makes this production a special one is being secure in the knowledge that Baca and the gang can reproduce this stuff live and to perfection. Check out a show one of these days!

Texas Towns and Tex-Mex Sounds is readily available on the Smithsonian Folksways site for purchase and download. You never get this great a deal for 18 tracks.

Here’s a little something from their recent live CD: