Monday, January 21, 2013

Classic Sounds Essential For Any Conjunto Collection

This album was first released by Ramiro Cavazos' Discos RyN in McAllen. At the time it was titled "Las Coronelas" (the name of a polka on the album). Later on, the rights to the album were bought by Chris Strachwitz and re-released on vinyl as "El Corrido De Jhonny El Pachuco" on the Arhoolie label in 1987. Eventually this exact same album, plus an additional ten tracks were released on a Arhoolie CD titled "The Many Sounds of Steve Jordan". These extra tracks were recorded in the early 1960's and are more traditional sounding than what Jordan would be known for later. Many of the songs were rancheras with Jordan and his then wife, Virginia Martinez. Those extra tracks also include a pair of neat polkas. Good early work from Jordan, and at times we hear some early glimpses of what was to come later.

The CD comes with the 1960's version of "Las Coronelas" and it's fun to contrast that with 1980's version of that same title. Both are great versions, but the first one is closer to a pure conjunto arrangement. On the other hand, the second version is so experimental and radically different from the usual conjunto polkas you will hear. Jordan throws some lyrics on this newer version and some extra licks to add more flavor to it. Adding the sizzle to the steak.

The track "El Corrido de Jhonny El Pachuco" is an awesome remake of Victor Cordero's "Juan Charrasqueado". The original Mexican lyrics are transformed into Jordan's language and surroundings. It's a more raw and grittier world for Jordan. For example, some phrases he adds to his version include "al alba" (alert, but it's used in the context of the song being "a cautionary tale"), "slicka" (meaning slick), "chismear" (gossip), cholas, "muy alto" (very high;stoned), etc. The classic Mexican tune is now arranged with Jordan's squeezebox as the lead instrument. The "Jhonny" in the title is a promiscuous, drug-trafficking pachuco and the song informs us in colorful terms that he would pick up women in McAllen. At the end of the story, Jhonny meets his demise and the song concludes that he was sent to the cemetery because of the company ("las pachucas mas greñudas") he kept.  

We have a few instrumentals on here like "El Rancho Grande Potpourri" (an arrangement of several pieces) and the spirited polka "La Pepita". But the song that hit me the most on the entire album was "Midnight Blues". This jazzy, otherworldly piece could only be crafted by an unorthodox musician like Jordan. His educated fingers and his desire to create unique sound effects produce an addicting piece that is Jordan at his most original. After hearing "Midnight Blues", it makes me imagine that Jordan could have probably created a great score for a sci-fi film.

The other tunes in the album are "Estrellita Del Norte" (ranchera), "Jamas Volvere" (ranchera), "Vuela La Paloma" (cumbia), and country standards "Together Again" and "More Pretty Girls Than One". The latter two are examples of Jordan showing how versatile he can be. The idiosyncratic elements of Jordan's style are on display for each of these songs. 

This album is an essential album for any conjunto collection and the best way to introduce a new fan to Jordan. After hearing this album new fans will realize why this eye patch-wearing, Elsa native is so revered by accordion aficionados around the world. 

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