Los Super Seven Throw Backyard Musical Blowout

Band inspires traditional Tex-Mex bash with its classic, cross-cultural sound.

AUSTIN, Texas -- If you've lived in these parts, you've heard the sound blasted from passing trucks or at the local flea market or at backyard parties; and on the only station your car radio picked up on the drive to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Live around here long enough and you'll wind up humming it in your sleep.

On Tuesday night, you could hear Los Super Seven playing it -- their dark, delicious version of it, that is -- from the stage at La Zona Rosa.

The scene was like one of those backyard parties familiar in these parts: lots of dancing and fun, with a drop or two of the good stuff on hand and music welling up into the night.

Specializing in the traditional music of Mexico and other like-minded songs crafted by friends across the border, Los Super Seven, who released a self-titled album in the fall, proved their sound can touch the heart of anyone from the Lone Star state and beyond.

When gringo guitar-slinger Joe Ely settled into "Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)," an old Woody Guthrie song about migrant workers, it brought tears to everyone's eyes.

As one might expect, the backyard party songs got the greatest response from the crowd (large in number, tame in behavior, more white-bread than barbacoa). The grooves might have been 70 years old but they sounded as fresh and flowing as anything around today, capable of inspiring joyful twitching from even the starchiest gringo.

It's not surprising either.

Down in this part of the hemisphere, where Tex meets Mex, if you take time to look you might notice the glassed-in front yard shrines lit by red bulbs and candles, and filled with statues or peeling paintings, dusty plastic roses, incense, crosses and milagros. They pay tribute to good things and good people.

Los Super Seven, the new Tex-Mex supergroup, are like a shrine unto themselves -- in this case one that is devoted to the heartfelt music of the towns that fan out from the border between Texas and Mexico.

Like the family-made music they play, Los Super Seven make up their own superstar musical brood. There's the father, '70s Tex-Mex country star Freddie Fender, and the wise uncle/elder statesman, Tejano veteran Reuben Ramos; the energetic, accordion-wielding grandpa, Flaco Jimenez; the bashful son, Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas and his best brother, bandmate David Hidalgo. They've hooked up with a young whippersnapper, Rick Trevino, and a neighbor-boy, Joe Ely.

Yet this music holds much more than just a good time.

At its heart, this stuff is dark -- wonderfully so. It's haunted, mysterious, black and white and red. Even "El Canoero" (RealAudio excerpt), which drew the loudest cheers and the most feverish movements, is far from typical party fare with its tale of a lone canoeist searching for his "brunette."

Would you believe that the chorus of this song is one of the catchiest things you've ever heard? Or that it brought the folks to their feet and filled the empty spaces with spinning, dancing couples?

The voices behind this remake -- those of Ramos and Rosas singing in Spanish -- stand as an unexplainable musical alchemy.

Description can't do it justice, but here goes: Rosas sings the first part slower, plaintive, building up to the release in Ramos' rougher edged call-and-response ("Playera playera -- mi playerita") backed by a chorus of singers and the rapid, constant hand clapping that serves as this style's signature.

As they do on their album, each of the Super Seven took their respective turns at lead vocals, creating an ever-changing mood in the Christmas-lit hall.

During the two-hour set, Trevino crooned like a slick, teen idol. And Fender threw in his unique, halting vocals.

If you've spent an extended period of time in this part of the world, chances are the songs of Los Super Seven would sound eerily familiar. Even if you didn't grow up with a father or uncle or aunt playing this music on your back porch, you'd still recognize it -- you've absorbed it by osmosis.

Despite the different styles exhibited in Los Super Seven's Tex-Mex wall of sound, the overall effect remained pure when they took the stage.

Experiencing them was like opening a dusty trunk and finding ancient texts inside, yellowing documents steeped in religion, tradition, blood and ashes.

As beautifully spooky as a front yard shrine, the songs they play seem a sort of offering to the men and women who first sang them.

Los Super Seven are the gentle caretakers.