Review: The Mavericks cut straight to the heart at El Rey Theatre

The Mavericks, with guitarist and lead singer Raul Malo in the foreground, played for nearly 2 1/2 hours on March 26 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles.
(Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times)

Music doesn’t get much more profoundly festive than what the Mavericks delivered Tuesday night at the El Rey, the L.A. stop on a tour supporting the group’s reunion album, “In Time.”

Over nearly 2½ hours, the Miami-born, Nashville-based country-rock-Latin-pop-folk-gospel group dispensed with any sense of artifice or calculation that’s so often at work in the pop music world. The core quintet, augmented on tour to nine pieces with horns and accordion, cut straight to the heart with effervescent songs celebrating life and love, even when all isn’t sunshine and roses.

Signaling the group’s confidence in the potent new material from “In Time,” lead singer-songwriter and guitarist Raul Malo kicked off the show with the irresistibly pulsating “Back in My Arms Again,” offering up the collection’s first three tracks before dipping into vintage songs from the group’s first go-round in the 1990s.

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Malo and his bandmates know the power to move that’s at the center of so much Latin music, and the Grammy-winning group incorporates tango, cumbia, cha-cha and other dance rhythms into the vast majority of its songs. Still, the group is also eminently capable of accessing other move-your-body styles, whether it’s the boogie-woogie rock of “As Long as There’s Loving Tonight,” the Texas swing of “There Goes My Heart” or the chunky country soul of the updated arrangement of “Pretend.”


Malo’s Latin roots -- his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba -- play a strong part in the band’s pan-American sound, and in concert, this played out with winningly authentic renditions of such Spanish-language classics as “Volver, Volver,” “Besame Mucho” and “Guantanmera,” which the Mavericks seamlessly morphed into its Anglicized Anglo cousin, “Twist and Shout.”

It was a performance even more confident, more muscular and more joyful than the group’s formal return to the pop spotlight last spring at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.

Shortly before going onstage, Malo told Pop & Hiss, “It’s tremendously gratifying that the album has gotten the kind of reception it has,” a reference to the large percentage of four- and five-star reviews it’s collected. “It kind of makes us feel like, ‘Hey, we aren’t crazy!’ ”

The current tour has two more Southland stops -- tonight at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert and Thursday at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield -- before heading north and east across the country.


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Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2


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