Home' Rhythms Magazine : July August 2018 Contents 20 Rhythms
The timing might be purely coincidental, of course,
but the release of Tex-Mex album Cruzando Borders on
Washington’s prestigious Smithsonian Folkways label
is undeniably ironic, given incessantly unsympathetic
presidential utterances from the White House relating
to refugee and citizenship issues.
Apart from putting the focus on topical political,
humanitarian and territorial considerations, the new CD
from Grammy Award-winning band Los Texmaniacs evokes
memories of some of slide supremo Ry Cooder’s classic
1970s albums with his accordion-playing amigo Flaco
Jiménez — most notably Chicken Skin Music — and also of
some of the folkier acoustic-oriented works recorded by his
Los Angeles neighbours and compadres, Los Lobos.
Indeed, Cooder’s song ‘Across the Borderline’, which
featured in 1982 Jack Nicholson movie The Border, is among
the standout tracks on Cruzando Borders — an album that
not only crosses the Texas-Mexico divide but also straddles
borders between past and present, traditional and original,
Spanish and English, country and Tejano band music.
‘Across the Borderline’s message of promise and the high
price paid by those attempting to cross the border has never
been more apposite. As Los Texmaniacs’ leader, co-vocalist
and baja sexto player Max Baca — a former bandmate of
the aforementioned Flaco Jiménez — explains in the album
sleeve notes, while incorporating a quote from the song’s
lyrics: “It’s a perfect time to record a voice for the Mexican
Americans that have always struggled to better their lives,
crossing a border to where ‘every street is paved with gold,
and it’s just across a borderline’.’’
Lyle Lovett’s rendition of Woody Guthrie's plaintive ballad
‘Deportee’ and another guest, country singer Rick Treviño’s
excellent version of his own bolero ‘I Am a Mexican’ further
highlight the tragedies and triumphs, hopes and even
humour of Mexican American life along the borderline.
Other tracks help form a mosaic of profiles of border life,
reflecting as the sleeve notes indicate “cultural pride, the
dignity of hard work, the indignity of prejudice, the beauty of
humility, and tragicomic tales of cross-border escapades”.
The album kicks off with the irresistible ‘Mexico Americano’
canción-polka popularised by Los Lobos on their
2005 album, Acoustic en Vivo. Josh Baca, Los Texmaniacs’
accordionist, stresses the significance of the piece in
Cruzando Borders’ notes: “It’s a beautiful song because it
identifies who we are. My grandparents on my mother’s side
were born and raised in Mexico and moved to America to
better their lives ... because of my mother, I’m Mexican;
by destiny, I’m American. I’m from the golden race. I’m
When he formed Los Texmaniacs back in the late 1990s, Max
Baca earthed the group’s music in a rock-solid foundation
of Texas Mexican conjunto music while infusing sounds
that were part of the contemporary Mexican American
soundscape in the Southwest into the group’s style and
repertoire. The music that resulted is built on the classic Tex-
Mex instrumentation of a three-row button accordion and a
12-string bajo sexto guitar with electric bass and drum-kit.
The expansive musical background of band members
surfaces via occasional tints of blues, rock, country, and jazz.
But, above all, Cruzando Borders epitomises the foundational
Texmaniacs approach — staying close to conjunto roots and
thereby illustrating the social dance tradition that goes along
with music originally forged on the back of Czech and Polish
immigrants to south Texas, bordering Mexico.
Max and Josh Baca express their feelings about the value of
immigration to American culture in general by dedicating
Cruzando Borders to immigrants coming from different
countries to work and better themselves. As the elder brother
declares: “We dedicate it to America, because America was
formed on migrants”.
Inspired by the brotherhood and beauty of the border
life that they have experienced, Los Texmaniacs have put
together an album that asserts pride in both Mexican culture
and their American nationhood. As such, it cocks a timely
snook at one of the most bigoted and belligerent presidents
in US history.
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