No person has brought respect and worldwide recognition to the conjunto accordion of Mexican-American Texans more than Leonardo “Flaco” Jimenez. He’s the one who took the button squeezebox out of its folkloric confines and crossed it over into the rock, roots and country mainstream through recordings and performances, first with his San Antonio compadre Sir Doug Sahm, next with folklorist Ry Cooder, and eventually with big-name stars including Dwight Yoakam, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Buck Owens and Steve Stills.
But somewhere along the way of bringing conjunto to the world, as a Grammy-winning soloist and charter member of the Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven, Flaco lost his compass. A running joke among longtime aficionados attending shows was which star he’d namedrop first. He was more interested in performing “Change Partners” than he was in covering his father’s standard, “Viva Seguin”. It became all about them, not Flaco anymore, and the music suffered accordingly.
That star-crossed history makes Squeeze Box King, Jimenez’ debut for Compadre Records, all the more a pleasure to hear. With El Gran Flaco as producer, he doesn’t just return to his roots, he wraps himself in them and celebrates them. Jimenez covers several songs by his long-ago San Antonio collaborators Salome Guitierrez and Jose Morante, two of the finest composers and arrangers of the corrido tradition in the last half of the 20th century, and revs up “In Heaven There Is No Beer” like no polka band has done before him.
Pure and simple, this back-to-the-barrio effort is Jimenez at his raw, unexpurgated best, proving no one riffs on el buton like he does. His website (www.flacojimenez.com) only gets it partly right when it declares the World’s Greatest Accordionist. This album confirms he’s the World’s Greatest Conjunto Accordionist, too.