On the lamenting “Pardon Me,” Raul Malo’s voice extends on the final word of a particularly lonesome “life I chose to lead,” and it somehow erotifies ache and yearning. The song, laced with accordion, layered vocal harmony on the bridge and a cascade of Eddie Perez’s twang-guitar, immerses in the unseen angst of road life, an explanation more than a whine, and demonstrates the complex musical excavation of simple ideas that defines the multicultural Mavericks beyond words. As always, the robust romanticism is en fuego.
Few bands have gotten as far in Nashville while displaying little if any concern for the conventions of Music City record making as the Mavericks, and since they reunited in 2012, they seem to realize there isn't much of a place for them on the radio in a market saturated by bro-country, so they've followed their own muse, which has served them quite well in the past. 2015's Mono doesn't sound like a country album, but it sure sounds like the Mavericks, dipping into a variety of different styles with soul, smarts, and a sense of fun while Raul Malo's glorious voice sweeps over it all. As the title suggests, Mono was recorded and mixed in single-channel audio, which gives the album a richly saturated sound that suits the Mavericks' retro moods, and from the old-school rock & roll shuffle of "Stories We Could Tell" and the sweet romantic mood of "Let It Rain (On Me)" to the potent Latin rhythms of "What You Do to Me" and the first-generation ska of "Summertime (When I'm with You)," this music feels like it was meant to be played in a dancehall with a crowd of Saturday night revelers whooping it up or slow dancing to the fine sounds.
The conceit on the Mavericks' second album since regrouping in 2012 following a long hiatus is that they've taken their timeless, pan-genre sound back into the studio and mixed everything monaural, putting "Mono" in line sonically as well as stylistically with many of the band members' favorite vintage recordings. It opens with the seductive "All Night Long," another tune reflecting lead singer and chief songwriter Raul Malo's Cuban heritage. His songs are lyrically simple yet emotionally and sonically resonant enough to envision listeners being drawn in even if they don't know the language.
The motto “back to mono” is commonly attributed to Phil Spector, whose widescreen 60s productions blasted out of tiny transistor radios with a power and grandeur that still hasn’t been duplicated. The Mavericks take Spector’s words to heart on the follow-up to 2013’s surprisingly terrific comeback, capturing their jaunty, jumping sound in pure mono. It’s a brave, unusual approach; one that works perfectly with the band’s increasingly retro yet far from stale style.