Tex-Mex conjunto music is an integral part of the Texan music scene and accordionist Flaco Jiménez its most recognised exponent and export. The wider international audience discovered Jimenez’s talents via his participation on Ry Cooder’s 1976 opus, ‘Chicken Skin Music’, but fast forward twenty years and we find the accordion maestro as leader on a pair of original Sony recordings from the mid-late 1990s. In truth, they are a mixed affair and, for this writer at least, a tad formulaic. However, they do shed vital light on the bilingual culture that is an everyday part of life in the Lone Star state, and as such, reveal interesting musical hybrids that one may never have contemplated. This is illustrated on the self-titled 1996 album with the country-blues of the classic Hank Williams favourite, ‘Jealous heart’, which begins in English and then reverts to Spanish. Country flavours in Spanish? Why not, or should I say, por qué no?. The music is aimed squarely at an audience that likes its music on the rougher edged side, maybe in tandem with a burrito and beer and on that level, the music takes on rootsier forms as on the brisk tempo of, ‘El Pesudo’, complete with joint harmony vocals. This writer was somewhat less enamoured, however, with the rock-tinged and glossy production of, ‘Sepro Que Hell Yes!’, another fine example of Spanglish in the current vernacular. Best of all is reserved for the subtler and gentler waltz of, ‘Por Las Paradas’, where Jiménez’s ability to is in evidence.
Recorded in Austin, Texas, the second album is a far more cohesive offering and in, ‘Borracho #1’ (‘Number one drunk’), with most of the male musicians joining in on the catchiest of songs. Pan-Latin influences surface on the instrumental, ‘Tico Tico polka’ with the use of the bajo sexto made to sound like a tuba, and it should be remembered that Latin albums from the west coast and especially New York regularly found their way to Texas. Tito Puente was as well-known there as in the Big Apple. The simplicity of the message and sheer exuberance of the party atmosphere most certainly is communicated on the uplifting, ‘En Avión Hasta Acapulco’ (‘On a plane to Acapulco’), and a raucous journey that is likely to have been.
Not the very finest of Flaco Jiménez’s work which predates the 1990s, but nonetheless a fair representation of his craft and definitely worth a listen.