La Mafia's godfather... If there was ever any doubt about Oscar De La Rosa's status as La Mafia's leader, it's erased with the release of Un Millon de Rosas (A Million Roses) the new CD from the Houston Tejano giants. On its cover, you'll find Oscar, posing rather stiffly and looking a tad uncomfortable with his new suaved-up front-guy image; pop the disc out of the case, and you'll see a grainy black-and-white shot of an impeccably dressed Oscar standing by a sports car; unfold the liner notes, and you'll find another shot of Oscar, staring cooly; flip that over, and there's a close-up of a smiling Oscar sitting in the aforementioned sports car; look below, to the CD's only band shot, and it's Oscar yet again, taking up the foreground dressed like a '90s gaucho. Heck, even La Mafia's publicity photos are solo shots of Oscar.

Call it Oscar overkill, or Sony Discos merely giving the fans what they want. Either way, the music on Un Millon de Rosas -- as on every La Mafia release since the group's 1986 debut -- indicates that there's more to the band than its well-manicured lead singer. What started as a gradual progression toward the mainstream has come to full-blown realization with Rosas, an unabashedly streamlined addition to an already polished catalog. Everything on Rosas is sanded to a smooth finish, from the country/Southern rock feel of "Vente" to the controlled salsa-boogie urgency of "Amame," the more traditional bent of "Quien" and "Para No Volver" and the hokey wedding-band keyboards on the title track. The playing is strong, if somewhat predictable, throughout; as with any La Mafia recording, the standards for production and execution are high. And again, De La Rosa's simmering, sex-soaked vocals on the slower cuts show that he's still the king of the Tejano ballad.

La Mafia has been around since 1980, a time when Tejano acts could hope for only regional success with their Spanish-sung, conjunto-spawned genre. Until the group began performing south of the border, and word got out about its sold-out performances there, hits were slow in coming for La Mafia. Then as the gold and platinum releases began to pile up in the late '80s, the group started catching flak from traditionalists perturbed by La Mafia's marketing of Tejano to a larger audience by playing up fancy keyboards and guitars and offering more Americanized melodies. The band makes no apologies for its modern sound, claiming, perhaps rightly so, that it's what the kids want to hear.

Really though, La Mafia can't expect to truly sell out to the way of the gringo until it crosses the language barrier and makes an English-language CD. And that, the group says, could be in the cards for sometime next year.

As some doors open, others close... North Houston's La Fuente De Rock opens to the public Saturday. The club will feature live Spanish rock and roll on weekends. Locals Desgracia de Inez and Dallas' Tequila Rock will headline this Saturday's grand opening shindig.

Another new venue, Club Elite, will celebrate its grand opening Wednesday. The club is dubbing itself a place for all generations, with a live music and DJ format that stresses R&B, jazz, blues and zydeco from the '50s through the '90s.

Word on the street is that Laveau's may not survive its recent move downtown. Reportedly, the club was lacking even the bare necessities (beer and running water) at its Chinese New Year celebration February 17. Now Laveau's appears to be locked up indefinitely while the owners debate its fate.

Etc.... Sam Taylor, the original man behind King's X and the Galactic Cowboys, called in recently to report that, contrary to rumor, he is not dying of a terminal illness. In fact, he'll bring his latest project, the eclectic trio Moons of Jupiter, to Ovations for a month's worth of Sunday shows starting this weekend. Taylor has also agreed to manage a new group fronted by ex-Galactic Cowboys guitarist Dane Sonnier and his bassist brother, Len, called The Sonnier Brothers Band. The group will play in Houston March 22 at the River Cafe.

Houston acts Charalambides, Dunlavy, Kable and The Linus Pauling Quartet have made the cut for inclusion on a psychedelic noise/ music compilation being assembled by the British zine Ptolemaic Terrascope (say it three times quickly). It's due out sometime in April.

Starting Tuesday, Access Houston will begin airing a pair of live videos from local punk bands Poor Dumb Bastards and Sad Pygmy. The clips will run in various time slots through April.

Fresh out of the studio after recording their BNA/RCA debut, Sisters Morales perform Friday at McGonigel's Mucky Duck. Saturday, three earthy, charismatic singer/songwriters with loads of on-stage appeal arrive in Houston: singer/songwriter Ken Gaines performs at the Millbend Coffeehouse in The Woodlands, Chris Smither plays the Mucky Duck and Dallas-bred Jerry Jeff Walker disciple Jack Ingram comes to Rockefeller's. Also Saturday, locals Taste of Garlic perform at Fitzgerald's with out-of-towners the Oblivious and She Demons. With an abrasive pop edge tightly pinning down its strong sophomore release, Dot Class "C", San Diego's Inch stops off at the Urban Art Bar Wednesday with the Meices, Becky Sharp and Geezer Lake. All are on their way to Austin for South by Southwest. -- Hobart Rowland

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Hobart Rowland