Start with the Mavericks, a group that would have been considered “pop” in the ’60s or ’70s but who are riding on today’s country charts; add Junior Brown, a singer whose brand of country music is so traditional that he’s the darling of alternative radio (modern country outlets would rather play Eagles oldies). The result is a dynamite show that shows how useless it is to try to classify music.
Miami-based and fronted by Raul Malo, a Cuban-American singer whose voice is often likened to Roy Orbison’s, headlining Mavericks only hint on record at their range in live performance. In fact, hit ballads like “What a Crying Shame, “”Here Comes the Rain” and even the up-tempo “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” took a back seat to the outside material.
Sprinkled throughout the main set of songs fromthe group’s three MCA albums were joking bits of Neal Hefti’s “Batman” theme, Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country,” the “Love Story” theme, Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” and full versions of two songs in Spanish. Truthfully, the band’s original songs sound better on record than they did on stage Friday, perhaps, in part, because of a less-than-sensational live sound mix.
The band’s encore sparkled with a wacky set of oldies including “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and a medley of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” and Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” that was not only great fun but made musical sense.
Though Junior Brown is in his mid-30s, his vocal antecedents include such old-timers as Ernest Tubb and Hank Thompson. It’s hard to get more “country.” His very well-received opening set drew from his Curb label albums: atmospheric original honky-tonkers including “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” (later wickedly reprised by Malo) and “Venom Wearing Denim,” and oldies including “Freeborn Man” and “Highway Patrol.”
Much attention has been paid to Brown’s showy guitar playing, here spotlighted on “Freeborn” and a medley of “Pipeline,””Walk — Don’t Run” and “Secret Agent Man” that showed surf music’s roots in twangy Southern California country guitar players including Joe Maphis, Don Rich and James Burton.