Eric Clapton Goes for "Big Pop" (5/15/98)

Mavericks coverMavericks, Trampoline (MCA Nashville 1998) - Fronted by Cuban-born singer, Raul Malo, the Mavericks are an unusual country act. With their fourth release, the band pulls no punches in delivering a heady mix that reflects the carnival-life artwork on the album cover.

The Mavericks have undergone several changes: the current lineup is Raul Malo on vocals and guitars, Robert Reynolds on backing vocals and bass, Nick Kane on electric, acoustic, 12-string, and baritone guitars, and Paul Dakin on drums. Backed by Latin horns and the Nashville String Machine, the new album defies easy comparison.

Mavericks photoThus, you'll hear more than a trace of the Tijuana Brass in the horns and orchestration on Trampoline. "Melbourne Mambo" is a Latin-influenced instrumental, and the catchy "I Should Know" is built around a cha-cha beat. The mix continues with "Dolores," a 20's styled composition which brings to mind Rudy Vallee.

Rooted in Miami, the Mavericks remain true to their Latin influences. If there's anything country about Trampoline, it's the way Raul Malo's vocals are recorded. Bearing more than a passing reference to Elvis and Roy Orbison, Malo's vocal arrangements are the primary country influences on Trampoline.

The great American bands, including Los Lobos built on a pastiche of styles to create a sound that is memorable and unique. (And give a nod to Beck, another contemporary innovator). The Mavericks have developed a unique style which shines on Trampoline.

Eric Clapton coverEric Clapton, Pilgrim (Duck Records/Reprise 1998) - Now more than 30 years into his recording career, Eric Clapton's place in pop music history is assured. Pilgrim finds Clapton veering into Big Pop, as influenced by his work with Babyface on the hit single, "Change the World."

Which is to say, Clapton won't be stuck in a rut. Pilgrim is miles removed from the intimacy of Unplugged, as Clapton works with synth keyboardist Simon Climie, and also includes a 20-piece orchestra on several of the fourteen cuts.

Pilgrim is neither the guitar rock nor the classic blues which made Clapton famous. Rather, it's contemporary pop, with a full studio backing (and sometimes smarmy).

That may put off some of Clapton's fans. But the gems are here, including the leadoff single, "My Father's Eyes" and "Circus," written about his late son (and featured on the original telecast of "Unplugged").

My favorite cut is "Born in Time," a cover of a Bob Dylan song. I was fooled when I first heard the song, as I thought it was Dylan himself on vocals. That's how great Clapton's read is: he gets right to the essence of this song (which comes from Dylan's late 80s work).

Because the material is not uniform, the length of the album becomes a problem. At 72 minutes long, it's too long for a single listening. Pilgrim would be more manageable if Clapton had released it as a double-disk package - it's hard to wade through 72 minute of music in a single sitting.

Still, Clapton delivers your money's worth. Pilgrim has its high points, although it is not a seminal recording by Clapton.

Bluesrunners cover Bluesrunners, To the Country (Rounder 1998) - Hailing from Louisiana, the Bluesrunners draw on the zydeco rhythms of the bayous. With the 15 tracks on To the Country, the band provides an accessible blend of roots and Cajun.

Which is to say, the music mixes centuries of Delta tradition with current rock sensibilities. The Bluesrunners consists of founder Steve LeBlanc on accordion, fiddles, and vocal, Willie Golden on saxophone, lap steel, and frottoir, Adrian Hubal on alto sax, Bernie Hasha on bass, Frank Kincel on drums, and Mark Meaux on acoustic and electric guitars and vocals.

Bluesrunners band photoRecorded by Tony Daigle at Dockside Studies in Maurice, Louisiana, To the Country is a solid package that brings to mind the experimental efforts of Los Lobos. Thus, songs like "Stringbean" and "Ossun 2 Stef" build varied instrumental textures using traditional acoustic instruments, electric guitars, and saxophones.

For some reason, the new album reminds me of Exile on Main Street. Not in the song structure, but in the overall groove of the album. For a solid Cajun slice, get To the Country.

- Randy Krbechek © 1998

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