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The Mavericks come 'full circle' at Stagecoach festival

Front man Raul Malo and the rest of the band bask in a renewed enthusiasm as they mark their return at the country music gathering.

April 26, 2012|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
  • The Mavericks perform in 2004.
The Mavericks perform in 2004. (Rusty Russell, Getty Images )

This Saturday at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, the Mavericks will make their first bona-fide concert appearance in nearly seven years.

The show by the revered and genre-defying band is being billed as a reunion and constitutes one of the marquee special facets of this year's festival in the desert. It's also a standout moment for the band, whose members are coming back together after a turbulent career run that began with a rewarding string of albums and singles in the '90s but ended in frustration when their label dropped them and the group disbanded.

A previous reunion, instigated by contractual obligations, proved unsatisfying for the band and led to its recent hiatus. Members spent much of the past seven years pursuing solo interests.

"You're so close to your band mates for so long, and you've been through so much together," said Raul Malo, the group's lead singer and widely acclaimed as one of the most captivating singers in pop music since Roy Orbison parlayed his operatically inclined pipes into hit after hit in the early 1960s. "You've gone through all the cycles: through brotherhood, to being sworn enemies and then coming full circle."

That circle includes a new album, due this fall, the creation of which band members say has reconnected them with the no-borders spirit that first drew them together in Miami nearly 25 years ago.

"We didn't want to just do a reunion tour — we wanted to make a new record, and make a really good new record," said Malo, 46. "The end result was really fantastic, [and] it was really on a whole other musical level than we have ever touched upon before."

That's saying a lot given the anything-goes sensibility that set the Mavericks' apart from the Nashville crowd on the release of its major-label debut two decades ago, "From Hell to Paradise." The group ingested and then reimagined a broad swath of pop music, from the traditional country of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash to soaring pop ballads à la Orbison to spicy Southwestern soul from the Doug Sahm school of Tex-Mex to Woody Guthrie-influenced songs of social conscience.

That freewheeling amalgam confounded narrow-casting radio programmers, who never fully embraced their music. After a few minor hits and three albums that made the Top 10 of the country album charts in the '90s, the Mavericks were dropped by their record company, went on indefinite hiatus, and Malo turned his attention to developing a solo career.

"I think the first time around we ended it not on our own terms — it was sort of ended for us, for not the right reasons," said Malo.

The Mavericks came back together once before, in 2004-05, for a short reunion tour, which also resulted in a new studio album, "The Mavericks." In retrospect, the band members concur it was not the group's finest moment, an effort borne more of contractual obligation than musical inspiration.

For the 2012 iteration of the group, however, all parties are expressing a renewed enthusiasm and a sense that planets are aligning in the band's favor, starting with the spotlight performance at Stagecoach.

This year's festival, which expanded to three days and sold out months in advance, is topped by headliners Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert and Jason Aldean. The more than three dozen acts scheduled to appear beginning Friday at the Empire Polo Club include Blake Shelton, Alabama, Sheryl Crow, Martina McBride, Steve Martin, Ralph Stanely and Kenny Rogers.

Another bright spot for the Mavericks is landing a new major label contract with Scott Borchetta, the veteran record executive behind two of Nashville's biggest launch successes of the last decade: Taylor Swift and his Big Machine Records label.

The new album, on Big Machine's sister imprint Valory Music Co., won't be released until the fall, but the first single, an expansive piece of romantic pop fatalism titled "Born to Be Blue," is slated to surface shortly after the Stagecoach show.

"I think we have a ridiculous opportunity here," Borchetta said in a separate interview. "What we're finding out as this develops is that everybody loves this band, and they love the music. It has lived on. Nobody has said, 'What are you thinking?' People are saying, 'All you guys are back together? Oh, my God.' So we're going in with guns blazing. I really feel we have a record we can go around the world with."

The unequivocal support from one of the biggest bats in the music business certainly helped qualm reservations any of the other band members might have harbored.

"I think he's the Clive Davis of his time," said drummer Paul Deakin, who began playing with Malo and bassist Robert Reynolds in Miami in the late 1980s, "and the way he does things, you don't have to fit into the cookie cutter."

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