Recommended Albums #68

tornados 1 tornados 2

Texas Tornados: Texas Tornados (1990)

Texas Tornados: Zone of Our Own (1991)

Given country music’s current state of relative stagnation, when a hundred bro-country clones churn out assembly-line anthems to beer, ladies in tight jeans, and the dubious unrefined charms of rural life, it’s hard to imagine there was a time it was all so different, so diverse, and so fun.

From the mid-1980’s to the early 1990’s country music introduced us to such iconoclastic acts as Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss, Dwight Yoakam, The Mavericks, k.d. lang, Los Lobos, Steve Earle…and a Tex-Mex supergroup who blended country with rootsy Texas rock and blues as well as Mexican folk and conjunto, mashing it all seamlessly, effortlessly into one great party.

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Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers had previously worked together in the Sir Douglas Quintet, whose band name was chosen in the hopes of competing for live bookings at the height of 60’s British Invasion Anglomania.

Freddie Fender made a living recording Spanish-language versions of American hits, then penning a few of his own, including “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” which was a breakthrough #1 pop hit in America in 1975.

Flaco Jimenez took the mantle of conjunto accordion king from his father Santiago, at first enjoying regional success in and around his native San Antonio before breaking through to wider success, appearing on records by Buck Owens, Ry Cooder, the Rolling Stones and others.

In something of a parallel to another supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys (who’d released their first album just a year previous) the individual careers of all four had cooled off when they joined forces for the first time in 1989. Their self-titled debut, released the following year, was a resounding critical success and performed well on the country charts despite the lack of a single to propel sales.

txThough some of the songs had seen previous release by the Sir Douglas Quintet or Augie Meyers, none had enjoyed major-label nationwide distribution, so when Reprise released Texas Tornados it may as well had been an album comprised of newly-written originals. The band released a Spanish-language version of their debut album as well.

Zone of Our Own, their 1991 follow-up, continues the same glorious collision of Tex-Mex styles with nearly equal success. From song to song, whether bandleader Sahm takes the lead, or Fender, or Meyers, and whether it’s a Texas blues rave-up or soulful ballad or accordion workout, an unabating party atmosphere pervades.

The Texas Tornados are no more, and with the death of Doug Sahm in 1999 it’s assured that one of music’s most original and distinctive bands ever is lost for good.

But their exuberant, celebratory mashup of styles is preserved on two albums that transport one to a musical border town whose magic stems from the fact that it is really a town without borders.

 

Listen to: “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of”

 

Listen to: “(Hey Baby) Que Paso”

 

Listen to: “La Mucura”

 

Listen to: “(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone”

 

Listen to: “Dinero”

 

Listen to: “Did I Tell You”

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