Veteran Tex-Mex country artist Freddy Fender isn't about to understate the significance of his supergroup, Los Super Seven.
In a pensive, assured tone, he calls it "one of the greatest things that ever happened in regards to traditional Mexican music."
If the group's lineup is any indication -- it's a virtual who's-who of distinctive Mexican-American and roots-rock musicians -- Fender may be not be too far off the mark.
In addition to Fender, the septet boasts legendary Tex-Mex singer/accordionist Flaco Jimenez, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of the acclaimed East L.A. band Los Lobos, Texas country-rocker Joe Ely, country singer Rick Trevino and Tejano (a Tex-Mex style) musician Ruben Ramos.
Recorded in only a week, the band's recently released, self-titled debut finds the members revitalizing the roots of Hispanic-American music and keeping their treatments simple and intimate. Tracks include such traditional Mexican songs as "El Canoero" ("The Canoeist"), Texas country tunes including "Mi Ranchito" ("My Ranch") and a version of Woody Guthrie's folk classic, "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)" (RealAudio excerpt).
"It's the kind of music that never had a handle on it," Fender said from his office in Corpus Christi, Texas. "It's not anything fancy. It's just the music of the people out of Mexico who came into South Texas. These songs are embedded in our culture."
Born Baldemar Huerta in the Texas border town San Benito, Fender, now 61, is best known for his Tex-Mex brand of country music, along with hits such as 1974's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls."
Fender, like most of his bandmates in Los Super Seven, picked two songs he wanted to record for the album. For the first, he chose the traditional ballad "Piensa En Mi;" (RealAudio excerpt), which was penned by Mexican composer Augustin Lara and made famous by 1940-50s Tex-Mex songstress Lydia Mendoza.
The song, the title of which means "think of me," is a deeply personal choice for Fender, who remembers listening to it as a child on his family's battery-powered radio.
"It's motivating and it's stark, and that's what I love," Fender said. "It brings back such beautiful memories of when I was a young guy and my mother singing that song to me. It's a way of ... reinforcing a memory of my past and at the same time putting out something that is creative and musical to the people of now."
The second number Fender performs on the album is the danceable "Un Lunes Por La Mañana" (RealAudio excerpt), which he discovered while visiting a border-town bar in Mexico in the 1950s. Explaining that the song's title means "early on a Monday morning," Fender calls the tune a "philosophical love song."
To illustrate, he quoted the lyric, "I'd rather see you dead than in the arms of another man."
Los Super Seven are the brainchild of manager Dan Goodman, who produced a show of Tex-Mex music at the 1997 South By Southwest music-industry conference and drew inspiration for the band from the show's success. For production duties, Goodman recruited Los Lobos saxophonist and keyboard player Steve Berlin, who has produced albums for blues-influenced rockers the Tragically Hip, alt-popsters Crash Test Dummies and pop-metal band Faith No More in addition to overseeing recordings for his own band.
"We had very little idea what was going to happen entering into it," Berlin said of Los Super Seven. "Everybody was given 100 percent artistic license, and I think the spirit of the record came from the guys in Austin [Texas] interacting with the guys in my band, the East L.A. contingency. There was a lot of mutual respect and mutual awe, to be honest. The fact that everybody got to meet in the recording studio lent a lot of the vibe to the project."
Los Super Seven also features appearances by Texas bajo sexto player Max Baca, accordionist Joel Guzman and the mariachi group Campanas de America.
Blues-country cult rocker Doug Sahm pops up briefly as well, on "Rio de Tenampa" (RealAudio excerpt).
"I caught him in the parking lot leaving and said, 'C'mon, you've got to be on this song,' " Berlin said. "It's such a great moment; I still laugh every time I hear it."
Both Fender and Berlin see Los Super Seven as an ongoing project. Fender even predicts that the band's sound will get better with time.
"There is a music that represents a whole culture; that is Los Super Seven," he said. "You watch: the 20-year-old right now, Mexican-American, you watch when they start listening to Los Super Seven when they're 30 or 35. They'll be like, 'Well, that stuff that I was listening to isn't that good anymore.' And they'll start listening to the good stuff -- the good music, the lasting music, the traditional stuff that's always been there and always will be there."