Somehow, it’s been twenty years since country rock eclecticians the Mavericks last appeared on Austin City Limits. Fortunately, that’s changed with the band’s third taping, an audience-free taping due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a special show not only due to the combo’s long-overdue return, but also because the group showcased its daring, critically-acclaimed first-ever Spanish-language album En Español. There’s always been a Latin side to the Mavericks’ freewheeling musical personality, and this show allowed them to indulge in it more overtly, much to everyone’s delight.
Taking the stage in a semi-circle, the expanded band (horns, accordion, percussion, plus backing vocalist Lisset Diaz from Cuban rock band Sweet Lizzy Project) began the show with “La Sitiera,” a ballad perfect for lead singer Raul Malo’s powerful, Roy Orbison-esque vocals. Malo switched from his Jazzmaster to a nylon-string guitar for the Latin-folk rocking “Recuerdos.” The band then went back to electric guitars and English vocals for “Back in Your Arms Again” and “Easy As It Seems,” danceable songs that clearly take some inspiration from the Tex-Mex rock & roll in the Lone Star State in the sixties. Malo’s big smile after concluding the latter helped make up for the lack of audience feedback. The group then went back to En Español for “Mujer,” a delightful Latin pop tune, before covering Mexican star Juan Gabriel’s frisky “No Vale La Pena,” highlighted by Michael Guerra’s rippling accordion. Malo switched back to English for the slinky fan favorite “Every Little Thing About You,” which was spiced by lead guitarist Eddie Perez’s fiery fretwork.
The band then left the stage, leaving Malo alone to sing a song “so connected to this place” – the Willie Nelson classic “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” – a song tailor-made for Malo’s smooth croon. As was “Me Olvidé De Vivir,” an early Julio Iglesias tune (and favorite of Malo’s grandfather) made the Mavericks’ own in a folky arrangement. Diaz featured on heavenly harmony vocals for “Cuando Me Enamoro,” a lush number she co-wrote with Malo, and the hip-swaying “Come Unto Me,” a live favorite with dueling guitar and accordion solos from Perez, Malo and Guerra. The Mavericks closed the set with the rollicking “As Long As There’s Loving Tonight,” frosted with rockabilly rhythms, Jerry Dale McFadden’s pumping piano, back-to-back-to-back horn solos, Guerra’s spicy squeezebox and Malo’s ever-boisterous singing. That high-energy closer earned a round of applause from our crew, as well as some off-camera wag’s cheeky comment, “OK, good rehearsal, guys!” It was a hell of a closer, and we can’t wait for you to see the hourlong broadcast airing November 21 as part of our upcoming Season 46 on your local PBS station.