We've been waiting for this record for a few years now, since the popular local act announced it was working on its first studio release with Calexico's Joey Burns, who co-produced with bandleader Mendoza.
Mendoza is the MVP, playing everything from keyboards and percussion to guitars and horns, and most of the musicians you see onstage with la Orkesta show up throughout, too. Burns and Calexico's John Convertino also are among the guest musicians. As are Nick Urata and Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa, the Colorado-based band with which Mendoza has toured; they appear on the romantic, strings-laden album closer, "Sueños Amargos."
Listeners expecting the band's trademark punchy horn charts and robust Latin dance rhythms will not be disappointed, and the playing is as crisp as you'd imagine. But there is also a raw, edgy rock influence on the proceedings.
"Traicionera," for instance, gallops out like a turbo-charged example of spaghetti Western, highlighted by Brian Lopez's booming guitar leads. The electric piano on "La Cucharita" has a '70s jazz flavor, and "Toma Tres" explodes like a brawling modernized big-band blowout, escorted by Jimmy Smith-style organ playing. The lurching, carnivalesque "Orkesta y Sonido" features Camilo Lara, from Mexican Institute of Sound, and is way too short.
The great diversity of music on Mambo Mexicano!, as well as its thrilling performances, make this album a triumph and one of the best Tucson albums of the year.