Country music has been good to the Mavericks. The former alternative rockers said adios to Miami's languishing live-music scene in the late '80s and headed toward Nashville to reinvent themselves. They rapidly worked their infectious mix of rockabilly and Roy Orbison into Music City hearts and onto the country charts.
After the success of their independently released, self-titled debut in 1990, the band attracted the attention of MCA Nashville, which subsequently introduced them to national audiences with 1992's "From Hell to Paradise," followed by 1994's "What a Crying Shame" and "Music For All Occasions" in 1995. Along the way Cuban-American singer Raul Malo and his bandmates landed multiple awards, top-10 singles and critical accolades.
For years the Mavericks pursued their chosen profession with boundless enthusiasm, but the machinations of success eventually took their toll. "You feel like kind of a square peg in a round hole or a stranger in a strange land because you realize a lot of what's going on has so little to do with you," says Robert Reynolds, the band's bassist. "So you either quit or get out of it. Or give in and become part of that. We weren't likely to don the cowboy hat and the pressed Wranglers. We weren't going to be able to fit on those terms."
They subsequently confounded expectations by taking a sabbatical in 1997. Malo yearned to spend time with his wife and two young sons and Reynolds longed for his wife, singer Trisha Yearwood. "It was sort of a self-defense thing," says Reynolds. "`We had to` make sure we weren't racing to the edge of a cliff where we couldn't turn back and potentially lose everything we'd worked for because we were no longer interested in the music."
During the hiatus, Malo performed solo shows in Nashville where he sang Spanish songs and pop standards backed by strings and horns. Drummer Paul Deakin worked with vocalist Lucinda Williams, and Reynolds, guitarist Nick Kane and keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden pursued side projects.
The time off was well spent. The Mavericks' latest album, "Trampoline," is a dirty trick of a Nashville record, a monstrously lush pop-orchestral delight that wraps Malo's swanky vocals in gorgeous layers of keyboards, guitars, horns, background vocals, an 18-piece string section and the only sitar you may ever hear on a Music City release. The Mavericks have concocted a channel-changing set of bolero rhythms, mariachi horns and Byrdsy guitar jangles -- with a '20s-style ditty thrown in for good measure.
"It's schizophrenic," Reynolds says. "There's a multiple personality thing going on. It was supposed to be a composite, a collection of our favorite music kind of brought together in mostly our own thing. The references that I could cite for the record are all real intentional." Indeed, the spirit of Roy Orbison is present, as are Elvis and the Beatles and a dash of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
Thank the band's, uh, maverick sense of musical style for one of the year's most entertaining discs of any genre. Cubano sounds underscore the opening "Dance the Night Away." Memphis-style soul fuels "Tell Me Why." A Tex-Mex shuffle informs "Someone Should Tell Her" and torchy crooners "To Be With You" and "Fool #1" could have been born in the "countrypolitan era" of 1950s Nashville. "Melbourne Mambo," an instrumental evoking Xavier Cugat, is followed by the Rudy Vallee cop "Dolores," gospel rave-up "Save a Prayer" and gentle ballad "Dream River."
The band knew they were challenging the boundaries of the genre with "Trampoline." "There's an ounce of wanting to push the limits to the point that you're hoping you can get some kind of strong reaction," says Reynolds. "You kind of want someone to go, ‘I love it,' and at the same time you want someone to go, ‘This sucks.'