Reluctant outlaws... There's an unlikely foursome out there doing their best to rub out the thickening, sickening line between shallow Nashville hit-making and stiff roots-country purism, and the funny thing is, it hardly seems like they're trying. Of course, definitions of "trying" can vary from band to band. See, the Mavericks -- the slick neo-honky-tonk outfit from southern Florida -- are on their little mission of goodwill mostly for themselves, and not necessarily for the benefit of country music as a whole. That makes their efforts that much more authentic and, in some ways, that much more difficult.
"Over the years, we've taken control of our career," says Robert Reynolds, bassist for the group, which performs Saturday at Jones Hall with Junior Brown. "It wasn't always that way, but we've never given up the basic strategy, which is staying true to our goals."
It's been a fairly unorthodox progression for the Mavericks -- from playing country standards at punk clubs in Miami in the late '80s to looking on comfortably from their new Nashville home as their sophomore release, 1993's What a Crying Shame, clawed its way past platinum. There have been a few slip-ups along the way, but nothing the band couldn't attribute to inexperience, tuck away and forget.
"Early on, we made mistakes that were probably never even noted by the industry -- things that resulted from not understanding the way [the music industry] works," Reynolds recalls. "Our label actually admired that we had ideas of our own. They never treated us as if they created [us]; they felt like they had come and found [us]."
Music for All Occasions, the Mavericks' newest CD, is a structurally sound document of a band peaking on all fronts. Often with the help of seasoned songwriters Al Anderson and Kostas, lead singer Raul Malo has assembled a batch of originals to match both his blossoming pipes and the band's increasingly snazzy instrumental work. On songs such as "Missing You," "One Step Away" and the anthemic heart-wrencher "Here Comes the Rain," Malo's vocal grace recalls the wistful, effortless melodrama of Roy Orbison, but with a distinct Latin flavor that hints at his Cuban descent. Not quite Nashville's cup of tea, perhaps, but even a money-driven industry town can muster respect for a band that goes against the grain and still manages platinum sales. Each of the Mavericks -- Reynolds, Malo, drummer Paul Deakin and guitarist Nick Kane -- moved to Nashville for different reasons. Reynolds' main motivation for leaving his Florida home four years ago was his relationship with country singer Trisha Yearwood.
But whatever the individual motivations for moving, Music City is a far more convenient headquarters for the Mavericks than Miami, even if the band's devotion to being a true collaboration of talent on-stage and off may not jive with Nashville's star-making mechanism. "Without a doubt, it was the nicest thing I ever did for myself," says Reynolds.
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Thankfully, none of the Mavericks' moves have involved the ultimate compromise: giving in to the powers that be and diluting their sweet, nostalgic urbanite's blend of C&W, rockabilly and rock and roll. It's a skillful, swinging approach grounded in heroes such as Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, George Jones and Willie Nelson on one side and Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison on the other. Frequently, genres and attitudes meet and mingle, and the end result goes down with a slight kick, a bit like a wine spritzer chased with a shot of tequila. Somehow, though, the guys always seem able to maintain their composure.
"We've always had the sense that we were in control -- that we could do what we wanted," says Reynolds.
Etc.... Blues/zydeco bassist Sherman Thomas died of a heart attack late last month at the age of 53. A Louisiana native who lived for many years in Houston, Thomas worked with an impressive list of musicians, including Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Clifton Chenier and Sherman Robertson. Sunday, Bert Wills, Big Daddy Gumbo and the Sheetrockers and others will assemble at 1010 NASA Road 1 at Egret Bay for a benefit concert and musician's auction to benefit Houston bassist Big George Brown; the member of the Soul Brothers was stricken recently with complications due to diabetes. Another local band makes good on a national scale: punks Pull My Finger were chosen out of thousands of entrants nationwide as semifinalists in the 1996 Musician magazine Best Unsigned Band Competition. Finalists will be announced in the magazine's August issue. Now, if the band would only think a little about their name .... In town this week: Thursday, Dallas' Tablet, a nominee for most improved band in this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards, comes to the Urban Art Bar waving around a promising feedback-drenched debut, Pinned; also Thursday, country-crooner-without-compromise Pam Tillis performs at Rockefeller's; Saturday, the Fabulous Satellite Lounge hosts the demented cocktail doodling of Combustible Edison and Rudyard's welcomes local miscreants Poor Dumb Bastards; and also Saturday, Europe's Millencolin wraps ska-like grooves in a hooky hard-core sheet of guitars at Deep Phat.
-- Hobart Rowland