The sound of Mexico comes alive on LA group’s fabulous second album.
Ian Winwood 2011-09-09
In March of last year Mariachi el Bronx were invited to take part in an evening of Mariachi music staged at London’s Barbican centre. The leading practitioners of the form were also invited to appear – but, and at least to the casual ear, the group reviewed here stood equal to such esteemed company. This might not be such a surprise were it not for the fact that, by day, Mariachi el Bronx are known as simply The Bronx: a blood-and-guts punk rock turn, very much a modern day equivalent of Black Flag. That any group could be so musically dexterous as to master these two musical forms brings both styles into sharp focus, and puts paid to the notion that a noisy punk band plays the way it does simply because it lacks the musical vocabulary to do anything else.
Mariachi el Bronx II is a fabulous album: fabulously written, fabulously arranged and fabulously executed. The songs carry about them both a sense of joy and a taste of tragedy, qualities that seem in keeping with much of the Mexican-American experience. The fact that only two of this band’s members are of Hispanic descent – one of whom is guitarrón player Vincent Hidalgo, whose father David plays in Los Lobos – suggests to this reviewer that, at least when it comes to music, the US melting pot is bubbling away nicely.
Most impressive of all, though, is the emotive brilliance of frontman Matt Caughthran, whose vocal performance brings to these songs a quality of real emotional articulacy. With The Bronx, he sings like someone whose fingers are trapped in a waste-disposal unit; here, he is the mellifluous narrator of tales that sound as if they come from the lips of someone who has seen both the best and the worst that life has to offer. Combined with playing that soars so majestically from this band’s fingers, the end result is a set that is both unusual yet immediate. If you only buy one album this month, in the opinion of these ears, this should be it.