The Mavericks’ varied and venturesome new Trampoline album is proving to be candy for critics and poison for country radio, which comes as no real surprise to the iconoclastic country combo.
Taking home the Country Music Association Vocal Group of the Year award in 1995 and 1996, as well as a Grammy in ’96, the four-piece band is regarded by many critics and industry insiders as the hippest mainstream, major-label country outfit of the ’90s, largely because of the group’s willingness to take chances and because of Raul Malo’s undeniable vocal ability. Despite the accolades, The Mavericks have had a tough time winning over the movers and shakers in radioland. The four-piece has not been given as much U.S. airplay as other popular country groups, say, Sawyer Brown, Diamond Rio and Alabama. While “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” “O What A Thrill” and “There Goes My Heart” have come close, The Mavericks have yet to score a Top 10 Billboard country hit. “To Be With You,” the debut single from Trampoline, didn’t even break the Top 50.
Vocalist Raul Malo, guitarist Nick Kane, drummer Paul Deakin and bassist Robert Reynolds (yeah, the one married to Trisha Yearwood), have never done it the straight Nashville way, and Trampoline, more than any other Mavericks outing, is a departure from conservative Music Row standards. Trampoline — the band’s fifth album, and its first in nearly three years–is a fitting title for a project which tumbles in several musical directions. And in sharp contrast to today’s sterile recording procedures, The Mavericks cut Trampoline live in the studio with full horn and string sections, employing very few over dubs, further differentiating themselves from the Nashville pack. Considering the band’s track record with radio, it was a bit of a gamble on the part of The Mavericks, producer Don Cook and MCA Records in that it was an expensive endeavor. Bringing in that many musicians and booking a studio big enough to accommodate them costs bucks. Not to mention that if for any reason a track didn’t sound right, the musicians would have to scrap it and start from scratch.
Reynolds says the band’s intentions were simple: To make a record the guys would be proud of, regardless of expectations in the biz and on radio.
“We have already experienced the ups and downs of radio,” the bassist explains. “I don’t think anything The Mavericks could have done would truly endear us to — or cure our relationship with — country radio. So, we had to put aside how we were going to make this record fly and just get back to making great music. We respect that people need to hear the record in order to be inspired to buy it. It will hurt us greatly not to have radio support of some form or another. But again, we feel there is nothing we can do to secure radio play. That is not ruling out that we could have a hit single from Trampoline, that’s just saying we’re not using the ingredients that are most common and recognizable in contemporary country music.”
Rather than relying on proven formulas, The Mavericks broadened its countrified pop sound to take in Latin rhythms, Cuban and Tex-Mex horn arrangements and lush orchestrations. “Dolores” calls to mind the Roaring Twenties, “Fool #1″ amounts to pure pop torch, “Tell Me Why” finds the band in blues territory, “Melbourne Mambo” is instrumental island music, “Save A Prayer” breathes black gospel and the orchestral pop splendor of “I’ve Got This Feeling” has Phil Spector’s signature production style written all over it.
“Nobody in the band came right out and suggested we make a record that cuts across the board stylistically,” Reynolds maintains. “It evolved naturally. We didn’t set out to make such a diverse album, but we didn’t want to limit ourselves, either. There was never a limit to what could go on this record. If somebody (outside the band) even hinted that horns aren’t very popular in country music, our response was like ‘The hell with that–we give up if that’s the criteria for making a record. We’re making a record with everything we hear, and it is time for those doubters to step a side.'”
During the break between 1995’s Music For All Occasions and the new CD, each of the band members pursued their own side projects. Malo made a number of Nashville club appearances with a swing group that performed standards by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and the Gershwin brothers. The Cuban-American singer plans to record an album of those songs, as well as a Spanish album, for release possibly next year, if he can find time during the Mavericks’ busy touring schedule to work on them. Kane has been sitting in with various roots-rock bands and is interested in producing. Deakin has been accompanying up-and-coming Nashville pop musician David Meade. The drummer, too, sometimes plays with Swag, a makeshift pop-rock band that Reynolds formed with Mavericks sideman Jerry Dale McFadden and Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson.
“None of the stuff we do outside of the band is going to conflict with The Mavericks,” says Reynolds, “because it is just the alter ego of each individual member. The Mavericks have always dug The Beatles, and The Mavericks have always liked Tony Bennett and Louie Prima. But when we get together as a band we do Buck Owens meets Louie Prima, Patsy Cline meets so and so…we mix it all up and it becomes something of our own.”
The nine-year-old band, to some degree, has always blended musical styles together, from its earliest days in Miami when the guys played souped-up country in punk clubs. “Early on,” explains Reynolds, “The Mavericks really wanted to accentuate its country influences, because it seemed to us nobody on the Miami music scene at the time understood country. We felt we had to show those people what Buck Owens was all about. We played Johnny Cash, and married that with a bit of Buddy Holly so that they could understand that it went together and created…”
Reynolds stops in mid-sentence, takes a lengthy pause to refocus and then continues making his point.
“I’m not saying anybody is ignorant, but a lot of young people, at least that we saw on the local scene, were not hip to where Patsy Cline fit into the mix. They were grooving to acts like R.E.M., Nirvana and The Eagles without relating it to the influential artists of the past. So, we came to Nashville as a left-of-center honky tonk group with a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility. And that worked–it’s been good for us–but as we settled into Nashville, we realized, in fact, that the contemporary country movement was just as foreign to the old (traditional) country stuff we love. The idea of us as flag-waving, old-time country lovers wasn’t very rewarding and it wasn’t working, either. While we still maintain our love for Buddy Holly and Buck Owens, we also realize that our sound needs to be free to contemporary interpretation. Trampoline, more than any of our previous records, pulls together all of the musical spirit of the group.”