Trampoline, the fourth record by the Mavericks, wasn't recorded in Miami. It doesn't have any songs about Miami. And yet it has Miami in its blood. Once upon a time the Mavs were Miami's brightest, newest musicians, a country-rock foursome whose powerful live shows packed in the crowds at clubs such as Churchill's and Washington Square. Back then, Greg Baker -- music critic for Miami's brightest, newest weekly paper (hint, hint) -- paid tribute to the band: "After one month and four shows," Baker wrote in January 1990, "the Mavericks are already creating a buzz, both locally and beyond. A number of local musicians have indicated that they would like to join the group; several have sat in at Mavs shows; and New York record biz hotshots have traveled to Miami to see them play." The reasons? The powerful lead vocals and songwriting talents of Raul Malo, the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Robert Reynolds and drummer Paul Deakin, and the fretwork of lead guitarist Ben Peeler.
How times change. The Mavs went on to justify the buzz that Baker noted, first by releasing an eponymous album on local Y&T Records, then moving to a major label, MCA, for 1992's From Hell to Paradise. In 1993 the band relocated to Nashville and promptly popped out a masterpiece -- What a Crying Shame, an LP whose epochal title track was one of the rarest of birds, an alternative country song that hit the pop charts (see also Yoakam, Dwight). Despite a revolving door of guitarists (Peeler gave way to David Lee Holt, who was then replaced by current Maverick Nick Kane), the band was riding high, not only earning praise from critics and taking home Grammys, but selling records to boot. On the third Mavs record, 1995's Music for All Occasions, country-rock gave way to country-pop, including Malo's duet with superstar vocalist Trisha Yearwood (Reynolds's wife) on Nancy and Frank Sinatra's "Something Stupid." And while the record wasn't weak, it lacked something -- power, conviction, focus.
Enter Trampoline. Recorded live in the studio, the fourth LP finds the Mavs recharged and resurgent, bouncing back (if you'll pardon the pun) from Music for All Occasions. The band is tight, as always, even with the large roster of special guests -- a horn section, orchestral accompaniment, and so on. Less a return to the Mavs' roots than a brave expansion of them, Trampoline mixes Stax soul (the superb "Tell Me Why"), lonesome folk ("Dream River"), Latin-flavored pop ("Dance the Night Away"), and even an unholy cross between big-band jazz and music-hall pop ("Dolores"). Pieces of older pop, rock, and country songs float through Malo's compositions: "I've Got This Feeling" sounds like the Kinks' "Stop Your Sobbing," and "Dream River" borrows its melody from the Pee Wee King standard "You Belong to Me." But the Mavs' songs are derivative in the way great pop songs always are -- covert in their borrowing, acting subtly on the part of the human brain entrusted with remembering radio favorites of the past.
Malo's restless experimentation doesn't always pay dividends -- "Dolores" and "Melbourne Mambo" may be fun throwaways, but they're throwaways nonetheless, better suited for a career retrospective or a B-side. Still, these are minor quibbles. What really distinguishes Trampoline from its predecessor -- as well as from 90 percent of the other records released this year -- is its energy. Sure, Malo still nicks his tricks from early-rock heroes such as Presley and Orbison more than any other contemporary vocalist (except maybe Chris Isaak). Sure, there's nothing deeply personal in his songs. But the performances, whether on the record or in the band's superb live shows, are electric, and there's a versatility that few acts can match -- Yoakam, maybe, and Los Lobos, and not too many others. If there's any justice, the band will be able to push the strongest songs -- especially "Tell Me Why" -- onto mainstream radio, and maybe even onto those video music channels you hear so much about these days. And how will the record sell in Miami? Well, that depends on all of you. Just be sure you have your motives ironed out. Don't buy Trampoline because someone told you to. Don't even buy it because of the local connection. Buy it because you want to hear quality songs played joyfully by a band at the top of its game. You won't regret it.
-- Ben Greenman
Van Halen III
If guitarist Eddie Van Halen is God of the hard-rock religion known as Van Halen, then original frontman David Lee Roth must at least be Jesus. Diamond Dave was acrobatic, flashy, bawdy, and vocally commanding, and his lyrics mapped the adolescent teenage brain in details as tight and colorful as his spandex outfits. His less charismatic replacement, Sammy Hagar, was more testifier than singer. Granted, Hagar's mop-topped cheerleader persona was grating, but he did bring a more socially conscious attitude to the group's lyrics, and he introduced a mystical element to the music. His tenure pointedly ignored the VH classics, however, and was marked by a bitter end that divided the faithful.