The San Antonio conjunto band – bajo sexto star Max Baca Jr., accordionist David Farías, Oscar García and Lorenzo Martínez – celebrates the release later this month of its second album for Folkways, the nonprofit record label for the Smithsonian Institution.
“Texas Towns amp; Tex-Mex Sounds” follows “Borders y Bailes,” the stripped-down, down-home effort that won a Grammy in 2009 for best Tejano album.
Both albums were recorded at Joe Treviño’s Blue Cat Studios in Southtown.
For the new 18-song CD, part of the label’s Tradiciones/Traditions series, Los TexManiacs looked to songs such as Santiago Jimenez Sr.’s “Aye te Dejo en San Antonio,” “Viva Seguin” and “Mojado Sin Licencia;” Lydia Mendoza’s “Amor Bonito” and Ernest Tubb’s “Waltz Across Texas” to convey a groovy, big-sky feel.
“I always look for two things: its cultural message and top-notch music,” said Sheehy, who also is the director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “This is something that is very much a part of Texas identity, Texas-Mexican identity.”
Sheehy, who developed the album’s concept with Baca, strived to tap into the Texas mystique.
“Texas is part of all of us as Americans,” he said.
Helping to get that point across are guest artists Bobby Flores and Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson and Jason Roberts.
“Bobby Flores, what a master musician he is,” Sheehy said. “To me, it’s the flip side of a Dwight Yoakam kind of album like ‘Streets of Bakersfield,’ which had Flaco Jimenez on it. Here, the Texas-Mexican musicians are in the driver’s seat, and they’re inviting their brothers from the country-music world. It’s a beautiful thing.”
But, Sheehy adds, Los TexManiacs members stand tall all by themselves.
“They just take it to the height of artistry. They’re artful,” he said. “People who have heard this album couldn’t believe that the TexManiacs could produce something better than the last one. But (the reaction) has been ‘Wow!’ It’s like a wow moment when they hear this one.”
Baca doesn’t deny that he wants his band to be mentioned in the same breath as Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan when people talk about Texas music – a desire that shaped the new project’s Texas concept.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t there be a Tex-Mex band … on that list?’ Because conjunto and TexManiacs’ music is Texas music,” Baca said about his band’s blend of polka, Chicano rock, boleros, blues and western swing. “It is kind of like swimming upstream against the current.”
Farias, who began his career with Los Hermanos Farias (a traditional family act) and La Tropa F (a successful Tejano band), said Los TexManiacs’ hybrid sound is a different trip.
“It’s more like folk music that we play,” said Farias, who’s been with the band about seven years. “It’s a totally different deal. I’ve never, ever played what I’m playing now since I joined TexManiacs. My first song was ‘Low Rider.’ And I was, like, ‘What the heck is that? On accordion?’ ”
Such an atmosphere made for some especially fun moments in the studio, which were captured on the fly, says Sheehy, who advised session engineers to keep the recorder going after some takes and “leave the playful moments.”
“They’re maniacs, you know,” he said.