Orkesta Mendoza blends vintage sounds to create a groovy boogie-woogie border scene | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Orkesta Mendoza blends vintage sounds to create a groovy boogie-woogie border scene


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The first time I saw Orkesta Mendoza was at SXSW about five years ago, and the group had already perfected an enormous, vintage Latin big-band sound and intense, punk-like sensibility unparalleled in the Latin scene. Led by bandleader, singer, and guitarist Sergio Mendoza (a longtime member of Calexico and Devotchka), the Tucson indie mambo group cross and recross the southern border of the U.S. on their new album, Curandero (Cosmica Artists), topping a foundation of 60s boogaloo with blends of rock, pop, and cumbia and adorning the whole thing with mariachi-infused, mambo-influenced horns. The new album follows 2016’s ¡Vamos a Guarachar!, and its 14 exhilarating tunes—sung in a mix of Spanish, English, and Spanglish—express the musical DNA of Nogales, Sonora, where Mendoza was born, and the adjacent Nogales, Arizona, where he was raised. On “Eres Oficial,” reminiscent of the 1960s McCoys hit “Hang on Sloopy” (a tune that topped the Mexican charts in 1965 after it was revamped as “Es Lupe” by Los Johnny Jets), singer Quetzal Guerrero makes a cameo, adding swinging vocals to the song’s carefree guitar chords and drumbeat-heavy grooves. Other stellar guests on Curandero include Devotchka’s Nick Urata, who lends his smooth voice to a funky vintage Mexican cumbia on “A Little Space,” and Spanish singer Amparo Sánchez, who appears on the immigration-reform-themed “Boogaloo Arizona.” The track “Hoodoo Voodoo Queen,” reminiscent of 1940s Andrews Sisters numbers, shines with impossibly tight harmonies by Moira Smiley, Carrie Rodriguez, and Gaby Moreno, spread across languid pedal-steel twangs and punctuated by bold, honking sax. “Bora Bora” has a smoky, loungey feel, but its winks to mambo and its superbly synchronized horns keep it from feeling cheesy. “The girls are wearing the red dresses,” the band croons on the song’s brief chorus. “They’re waiting to dance and twist.” Curandero is the perfect album for anyone who’s ever felt that sort of anticipation.   v

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