Tejano Music isn’t just a genre of music. It’s a way of life. A part of our Chicano culture. Musica that grew from singing old songs while picking crops, at family fiestas, and around a huge fire in the back yard. A music and culture that has thrived and struggled, much like its listeners.
And having been a listener and hard-core fan since my first Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos concert at a school stadium in Crystal City, TX in ’77, it’s a way of life that I’ve enjoyed and have had to help defend from corporate types (and local rodeos and finicky fair-weather fans) that simply want to kill it for whatever reason. Well, even during The ‘Rona, La Onda continues to breathe and it breathes life into stay-at-home fans.
Yes, watching the Cheeto Jesus ruminate about bleach injections can cause one to easily spiral. But thanks to some of my favorite bands and musicians, mental health has been within reach of my cell phone or my laptop as these músicos set-off to survive during this pandemic. Livestreamed concerts by artists like Los Texmaniacs (Max and Josh), Michael Guerra of The Mavericks, David de La Garza (of La Mafia), and others have provided some respite from the current situation. Gracias a Dios for all of this talent that many of us take for granted.
But these concerts aren’t free, although, they’re not forcing you to pay. These bands have been knocked off their tour buses and have taken to opening up Venmo, Paypal, and CashApp accounts so they can make some survival money as their livelihood instantly dried up in March. So, if you see a livestream concert with a payment link, give a little! “No sean codos,” as my Pop used to say.
All of this said, I was so happy when I saw that one of my favorite bands, La*45, was going live on Facebook to present their new production, La*45 II. No, it wasn’t a concert, but a listening session from their recording studio. It was intimate and full of studio and road stories, along with some pretty lofty conversation about music-making and theory. It was mind-blowing, though I think we would have been left in tatters if they’d not been as humble about their talents.
La 45, self-dubbed “the NextGen Chicanos,” is one of those special bands made up of the usual pieces, but also with a powerful 5-piece horn section. Yes, one of those big bands that bring up memories of Little Joe, Johnny y La Familia, Latin Breed, The Royal Jesters, and Tortilla Factory. Compadres Mike Torres III and John Ontiveros, La Familia alums, have put together some pretty impressive elements that not only record great music, but reproduce it live to near-perfection. And their long-awaited 3rd album is finally here.
The first single, Como Me Alegro, was released a year ago while production continued on the album. A hard-driving ranchera with excellent use of the horns and an accordion break, it’s one of those tunes that floats you to the dance floor. Another single is both a tribute to and a collab with the King of the Brown Sound, Little Joe Hernandez, Traigo Mi .45. Yes, the band is named for this classic tune and Torres, III and Hernandez trade-off on delivering the lyrics. A similarly classic-sounding tune is Asi Lo Quisiste, with the addition of harmonies from Torres, III’s better half, Amy, and an amazing sax solo.
The horn section gets quite the workout with a couple of sweeping tunes: The cumbia, Cumbia de la Media Noche and a samba, La .45 Anthem. The anthem includes some amazing drumming, trumpet, sax and guitar solos from Will O’Rourke, John Ontiveros, Ricky Ray Hernandez, and Estevan Ramirez, respectively. Moriria Por Ti has a Roberto Pulido-feel to it with its dual sax performance and Tejano cumbia sound. [Shout out to Ricky Ray for being a Texas State Bobcat!]
Although the album has an R&B feel, it is How Could This Happen, that shows off that ability–vocally and musically. La 45 is known for their ability to move from Tejano to Cumbia to R&B and back in a live setting.
Solo Un Juguete, with its Steve Gadd drum intro and keyboard-heavy melody, brought memories of the 80s which saw the introduction of synthesizers to La Onda. [Side Note: Mazz did a similar drum intro in 1984 with the intro to Ay Muchacha from the Standing Ovation album, for all those historians out there.] Mike and Amy Torres collab on another modernized classic, Con La Misma Tijera. Herbie Lopez’s organ backdrop injects the classic sound into the tune. Que Bonito, offers a jazzy tenor sax intro by Hernandez before heading into a signature ranchera.
All in all, La 45 II is a nice package of cruizin’ music that soothes and causes general happiness. At least, that’s what it did for me. And, next time there’s a super dance in San Antonio produced by Henry Pepsi Peña and featuring La 45, we’re there!
One more thing. The eye-catching artwork on the cover and in the liner notes is by Chicana artist Bianca Mireles. She’s a West Texan who is now based in New Hampshire. Check out her work on her insta.
And get your copy of La 45 II at La45Music.com. You can get the digital version for $10, or, for $15 download it and receive the CD in a week or so. I did the latter.