Limelighter Notes
The long-awaited column by Alejo Sierra

While it has always been difficult to stage successful shows at Fiesta Gardens park in Austin’s mostly Mexican-American East Side, Tomas Salas and the Latino Arts Consortium of Austin (LACA) was undaunted by dark weather and threats of rain. Billed as the First Annual Tejano Music and Arts Festival, LACA’s fledgling two day event featured “Las Nuevas Reinas de la Onda Tejana,” Shelley Lares and Stefani. Both on Sony Discos-Tejano, the label division led by Ray Martinez in San Antonio, the artists represent the growing presence, power and prestige of female artists on the Tex-Mex musical landscape.

Turn out for the weekend blitz of beauty and music was much higher than expected and the festival is off to a flying start. Special mention should be made of Los Inocentes, a small group of young San Antonio musicians barely out of high school bent on reviving the corrido (border ballad) tradition.

Meanwhile, work on the upcoming Los Palominos CD, Arcoiris de Papel continues unabated. Producer Mando Lichtenberger of La Mafia fame, says the first single is a track composed by Mexican singer-songwriter Joan Sebastian. Look for a follow-up single by Miami-based songwriter Ricardo Quijano. The seamless vocal harmonies delivered by Johnny and James Arreola make Los Palominos one of the most requested roots Tejano groups currently on the crest of a neo-traditional sound wave.

An early album, Entre la Espada y La Pared (Between the Sword and the Wall, Sony Discos-1991), the first of many since produced and arranged by Mando Lichtenberger, became available on CD for the first time last year. It features then-teenaged Palominos turning out conjunto cantina standards with extraordinarily adept accordion and bajo sexto riffs. According to Lichtenberger, the sound was “too progressive” for Tejano radio at the time. The Palominos couldn’t get airplay to save their lives.

Now however, artists such as Eddie Gonzales, Michael Salgado, La Tradicion del Norte and a host of other newcomers (Intocable, Mazisso, Limite, etc.) exploit the return early Tejano-norteño style with gusto. And Tejano radio has embraced them eagerly. Go figure. Los Palominos, to their credit, have hit stride with a sound that is as unique as it is streamlined. They are publicly recognized by Limite’s Alicia Villarreal as an influential predecessor, and their last CD, Duele el Amor, maintains healthy radio and market momentum.

And while we’re addressing new releases, take note of the new one from FAMA, a Houston sextet who have been elsewhere erroneously described as a “poor man’s Mafia” by one of the other two Texas-based Latino music scribes. Titled Sin Duda, the disc unveils a top-flight musical outfit in peak form. Singer Javier Galvan, whose trademark Bono-esque vocals blend well with instrumentation in a range of genres, fronts for a leaner, sharper, tighter band. The lead single, “Palomita,” is a norteño-laced ranchera which broke to 48 spins a week in Corpus Christi. Not bad at all. A release party at Planet Hollywood in Houston’s ritzy Galleria Mall was held on Oct. 9.

Sin Duda was recorded, for the most part, at Sunrise Studio (Houston). Among several exceptional tracks are a mariachi mixed at Blue Cat Studio (San Antonio) complete with vihuela, gitarron and and violin artillery and “El Ultimo Adios,” FAMA’s farewell salute to Cornelio Reyna, the border music maestro who passed on earlier this year, recorded with Gilbert Velasquez and Rene Gasca in San Antonio. Featured on accordion in the latter song is original Pavorreales leader Eddie “Lalo” Torres whose own rediscovery album was produced by Los Pinkys ringleader Bradley Williams and released on Rounder Records.

Williams is the Michigan to Austin-by-way-of-San Francisco transplant who teamed with roots conjunto wiz, Isidro Samilpa to create a retro conjunto group. Los Pinkys have two CDs on Rounder; Williams also does duty with the Gulf Coast Playboys, a country-cajun roots rock band that features ex-Bad Liver Ralph White. More on born-again conjunto and roots revival later. For the moment, suffice it to say that Flaco Jimenez is now on the Virgin distributed Barbwire Records, as is Houston’s underrated Sister-Sister (a CD ships Nov. 4). Jimenez recently embarked on a tour to France with Austin’s swamp-rocker J.J. Barrera of the Tailgators on tololoche (up-right bass) to bolster Flaco’s European swing.

Alejo Sierra
P.O. Box 6065
Austin, Texas 78762