Rana, Shane and the Lash
What makes a listener change her mind about an artist? As in 180 degrees.
Why upon first listening to Rana Santacruz was I doing the mental eye roll 30 seconds into the first track, skimmed the next two and wrote the whole thing off with a "Fffft. More Latin folky dolky. Remember to delete this."
The second time I heard his band was while bar tending in the busy Cedar lobby during a show and a fiddle and accordion chord floated over from the video monitor's speakers. Why, then, did this one stop me in my tracks, causing the "who IS this?" reaction.
And why does that opening track banjo picking sound so comforting and familiar?
I found the answers to all these question in the this interview, in which Santacruz confessed his extreme admiration for Shane McGownan and the Pogues. Ah HAH! Sure, he's singing in Spanish with lyrics straight out of a magical realism novel, but the instrumentation is pure Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. He sings "El Ranchero Punk" and I hear "Jeses James." I hear "A Man you Don't Meet Every Day" throughout the album. This is all a good thing, understand. R S & t L is an album I know chapter and verse, and talk about yer comfort music.
it all makes sense now. A guy growing up in Mexico City loves the Pogues and Tom Waits, moves to Brooklyn, forms a band with his accordion, plus fiddle, banjo, bass, etc., throws in the occasional Mariachi trumpet and out comes Chicavasco. He explains it all at about the four minute mark above, but the whole thing is worth watching. And tell me you don't hear Pogues in that first thirty seconds. Yep.
"People are afraid of being cheesy. They don't want to be romantic. They take a step away from romanticicism and I think that make music cooler...cooler not as cool, but as cold." Santacruz does not shy away from romanticism, and he is sincere enough to avoid the cheese. His songs do come across as warm, not to mention vulnerable as he grabs for and barely reaches that high note in "El Cajito del Barro." Not unlike the old Mexican films he loves.
The Pogues had a sweet side, a sad side, that has often been relegated to the dustbins of '80's music history as pub punk/rebel rock bands picked up the torch of their wilder (and sometimes sloppier) tracks and ran that way with it. It sounds SO good to hear SantaCruz carefully treasure that romantic bit, and not necessarily just romance like love, but romance in the sense of adventure and tragedy as well . "...a ludic inventiveness that falls between prettiness and beauty, " as PopMatters put it.
Hey, there's a boat on both album covers!
By the way, it's not "Rah-nah;" pronounce his name more like "Renee." Go figure, but that's what it sound like people are calling him in these interviews. We'll find out for sure when he brings his band to the Cedar January 7.
And if it sounds out of character for this reporter to use words like "sweet" and "vulnerable" to describe some music she likes, rather than my usual stock phrases such as "badass" and "loaded with grooves," just consider that I am feeling vulnerable about driving to Milwaukee in this weather today, and it will be very sweet when I am safely at my sister's house, rolling our pie crusts.
As the ethnic make-up of America changes, so does its music. And with a passel of influences under his belt, Rana Santacruz makes music for that new America.
Santacruz’s solo debut Chicavasco - released March 9, 2010- is the product of a vibrant musical vision that was shaped by growing up in Mexico City and coming of age in a musical world informed by MTV, where all styles of music are accessible like never before.
Santacruz writes and sings the songs, as well as playing accordion and a variety of stringed instruments. To flesh out his tunes, he enlisted a cast of a dozen versatile musicians who add a folk and neo-classical flare with violin, cello, sax and jaw harp as well as traditional Mexican mariachi instruments like guitarrón, vihuela, trumpet and tuba.