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Austin Chronicle "El Corrido de Esequiel Hernández"

By Raoul Hernandez

JUNE 1, 1999: 

El Corrido de Esequiel Hernandez (Arhoolie)

Like another master, Willie Nelson, and his superb Spirit album from 1996, Santiago Jiménez Jr.'s El Corrido de Esequiel Hernández is a career album that not only demonstrates the great accordion king's genre-defining talents, it also encapsulates the San Antonio native's highlight-filled, 40-year career in one confident flourish, while also promising more triumphs to come. Framed and anchored by two corridos, politically driven narratives capturing the history and heritage of Texas/Mexico border town life, and musica norteño -- a musical form made famous by his late-great father -- El Corrido de Esequiel Hernández is as lean and tight as the quartet that recorded it. With Jiménez and bajo sexto player Victor Mermea blending their plaintive cries and simpatico harmonies, and Ruben Valle's big beefy basslines paired with Rufus Martinez's steady pulse, the four expert conjuntieros crank out the sounds of the Southwest from the opening title track to the closing ranchera, running down polkas, boleros, and cumbias in between like a full-blown mariachi orchestra. Jiménez's "El Corrido de Esequiel Hernández -- La Tragedia de Redford Texas" is a musical account of the 1997 killing of a young goat herder by border patrol Marines, and if the subject matter seems weighty as the album's lead-off track, the beautiful, heartfelt ode to the accordionist's mother that follows, "Dios Me Nego (Madre Querida)," balances out the two expertly. Songs stranded in and out of love, "El Mal Querido," "Amor Ingrato," and "Amor a Lo Lijero" lend the album a romantic aura, buoyed by festive, virtuosic instrumentals ("Polka Potpourri," "El Alacran," and "Un Dia en Chihuahua"), until a shepherd story, the previously recorded, documentary film soundtrack epic "El Corrido de un Borreguero" brings the title track back centerstage. Throughout the disc, Jiménez's accordion wizardry distinguishes "Chief" as an undisputed master musician, which is precisely how El Corrido de Esequiel Hernández should be viewed: a masterwork.

4 stars

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