CD Review of the Texas Tornados – “Esta Bueno!” (BiSMEAUX Records)
By ‘Rebel’ Rod Ames
Just about everyone thought once Doug Sahm left us back in November of 1999, and then Freddy Fender in October of 2006 that the Texas Tornados were gone forever. However, any one familiar with Shawn Sahm, knew the gene was still going strong, recordings live forever, and are by some, never forgotten!
He, with the help of long time Doug Sahm friends and collaborators, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jiménez knew about both. They aided Shawn and band members Louie Ortega on Guitar, Background Vocals, Speedy Sparks on Bass, Ernie Durawa on drums, George Rains on drums (“Tennessee Blues”), Michael Guerra on Bajo Sexto, Nunni Rubio sings background vocals, Neal Walker is also on background vocals and bass, and finally, The Westside Horns featuring Al Gomez, Spot Barnett, and Louis Bustos. Of course, Freddy Fender is on vocals, Flaco Jiménez on vocals and accordion, Augie Meyers on vocals, Vox organ and piano, and finally Shawn Sahm, adding his voice to the vocals, guitars, and the drums, on this incredible new CD from the legendary Tejano band, Texas Tornados’ “Esta Bueno”.
This is an excellent record produced by Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson. The recording is reverently laid-out, with Doug and Freddy being the first two elements you hear on the record, and I believe it sets the pace for the entire record. At first, the record pays homage to the founders then our ears, filled with new Tornados’ tunes, give the record an enormous amount of freshness, while never abandoning the idea of this also being a fantastic tribute album, ultimately keeping the listener interested throughout this set of thirteen songs.
Shawn Sahm steps into the spotlight on several tunes on the record, including the first track, “Whose to Blame”. When the younger Sahm began to sing, tears started swelling up in the corner of my eyes. He reminds me so much of his Dad. There is no doubt it’s Shawn belting out the tune, but there is also no qualm left as to who his Father was.
Doug and Shawn Sahm wrote, “Who’s to Blame”. The entire idea of the song came to the Father and Son duo while riding around in “The Caddy”, as so many of their ideas did. After Doug Sahm passed, it only seemed fitting for Shawn to finish the concepts they had come up with. “Who’s to Blame” is one of his finished products and it a beaut! It certainly pays homage to Sir Doug and as Shawn said, “I gave it a “who were you thinking of” vibe. Pop would have loved it and said “Dat’s ma boy!” The whole tune has the Doug Sahm/Texas Tornados signature written all over it.
The second track, “If I Could Only” continues the tribute with a Freddy Fender original. As Shawn tells it, “Freddy called me the night before these recording sessions were starting, and in his funny Freddy Fender voice asked, “Mister PRODUCER, what do you need from me tomorrow?” And I said, “Well Freddy I’m going to need two songs from everybody.” So he came in the next day and said, “Shawn you pressured me into writing a song, man!” Of course we thought it was really good. I can remember just immediately thinking, “Oh man, that is classic Freddy Fender.” That is precisely what I would say about this tune, classic Freddy Fender! Shawn went back in later, added the horns, tweaked it a bit, and made it what we hear on the record. It’s one of my favorite tunes on the album.
It is only fitting that on the third track we get a heavy dose of Augie Meyers. After all, he is one of the founding Fathers of Texas Tornados. Track one is all about Doug as seen through his son’s eyes; track two is all Mr. Fender, then on track three we get Mr. Meyers with “My Sugar Blue”. This is an updated version of an old Augie Meyers tune and is updated with more of a Tex-Mex beat. Augie does a great job of singing his song. This is precisely the type song Mr. Meyers was born to write and sing.
“Esta Bueno” is the title cut, and the seventh track on the record. It was also written by Augie Meyers, and is all about eating jalapenos that burn you up, spreading its culinary fire to every orifice in one’s body. I had to stop eating them a while back. I’ll sneak one in every now and then, but inevitably pay the price, only to be reminded of why I refrained from eating the damn things in the first place. Augie, of course, places his trademarked, humorous slant on this gastronomic experience. This is a comical Tex-Mex dance tune and it will entice the listener to climb up in a chair and dance with a great big jalapeno-eating grin on his or her face.
Flaco Jiménez treats us to the tenth track on “Esta Bueno” with a tune Doug Sahm wrote called “Chicano”. Mr. Jimenez’s fingers seem to glide up and down his accordion effortlessly. Doug Sahm introduced Flaco to the rock and roll world many decades ago and has been on numerous records throughout his illustrious musical career. He always brings something to the table and this song is no exception. He sings it beautifully and with a great deal of emotion as well.
Freddy Fender is again, featured on “Another Shot of Ambition”, a simple little honky-tonk drinking song with the Texas Tornados signature written all over it but with Freddy Fender standing firmly in the spotlight. His soothing voice enticed me to ask the question; has there ever been a smoother voice in country music, or hell, just music in general, than Freddy Fender’s? He then does it again with the beautiful “Llevame”, a beautiful Tejano treat for the ears.
The last tune on the record is Sir Doug’s “Girl Going Nowhere”, sung by Sir Douglas himself. It’s classic Doug Sahm cut from the Sir Douglas Quintet cloth. It wraps everything up as to say farewell from the man who brought so much to roots music. He could rock, he could blues it up, he could sing country, he could play Tejano, and he could mix it all up and a big old bowl of musical joy. I miss him but not as much as his family and friends. They all pay tribute to the man by finishing the record with this great piece of songwriting.
This is a fine piece of artistry played by legendary musicians and a nice mix of newcomers. I call them “newcomers” only because they may be new to many folks around the nation. However, they are not new to those of us who live in this part of the country. We South Central Texas music fans are and always have been very familiar with The Westside Horns, who have been featured on many artists’ albums, including The Krayolas and The Tex-Mex Experience that included Shawn Sahm. Michael Guerra has played with Shawn Sahm and The Tex-Mex Experience, as has Nunni Rubio. Doug Sham and the rest of the Texas Tornados knew all of these guys and recognized their enormous talent a long time ago. They brought a great deal of depth and texture to the recording and the quality of the tunes selected for this album.
‘Rebel’ Rod says, “This is a great record and will undoubtedly find a spot on, not only my top 10 list of 2010, but I’m sure on many lists. I know, I know! ‘Rebel’ Rod it’s only March. So what! This is a damn good record and if you don’t get it in your collection, then you’re the one missing out.