Jenny Ball – the “Jenny” in Jenny and the Mexicats – tells a story of playing in a packed sit-down venue in Europe where the audience was listening obediently in their chairsuntil one fan could not resist the music, jumped up and started dancing and singing along. The band was delighted but the police came in and forced him to sit down and stop singing. So the band invited him up to sing with them. He cried onstage he was so happy, the audience stood and cheered, and the band rocked on with a new energy. That is the kind of band Jenny and the Mexicats is – absolutely adored by their fans and not afraid of anything, including seamlessly sliding from Spanish to English, from flamenco to rockabilly, from pop to acoustic. Which is exactly what their new album, Mar Abierto (Open Seas) does.
Fourteen songs in all, including album credits set to music, ricocheting from Spanish to English, from Latin Rock to Jamaican dance, to lovelost heartbreaking trumpet. There is something In Mar Abierto for everyone and no boundaries to any of it. And that is the point. While Jenny couldn’t quite answer the question”what is the essence of Jenny and the Mexicats”, this album answers it for her – a living demonstration that music is the borderless bond of fun among all peoples. From the addictive Latino percussion rhythms of “Boxes”and “Primera despedida” (First Farewell) to the island beat of “Tanto Tiempo” (So Long), Mar Abierto makes us dance together like that man who defied the police and got a venue on its feet.
Jenny’s voice and trumpet – she is known in some circles as “the English girl with the trumpet” – rides the racing mustang of bongo/cajon/drumkit percussion laid down by David Gonzales Bernardo and his traveling drum mates like a skilled vaquera, moving effortlessly with the galloping heard of Mexican-Spanish-rock-blues-rockabilly beats. “Everyone adds their drop of water to the songs, but the rhythm is the very important part of the music,” Jenny emphasizes, a point driven home by the album’s rhythmic complexity and sheer dance energy.
But this is Jenny and the Mexicats, so the music morphs that rhythmic complexity into a ranchero/polka pace in the English language “Born in the City”, and then tovocal emotional power in Jenny’s bluesy introduction and seductive smoothness in “Lion”, to urgent flamenco guitar in “Fantasmas”. The boundaries dissolve along with our defenses and judgements as each song takes us to a new,yet familiar place. We know that pulse, we feel that lyric in our heart and our gut. We understand the story she tells regardless of the language she sings in. And we will defy any force that tries to keep us from joining the flow and dancing.
Mar Abierto’s music is familiar and comfortable as well as global and inventive. The insistence of “Ausencia” and “Under My Skin” strikes us deeply, bringing to bear to the emotional power of the Spanish breakup songs of Julieta Vanegas or La Oreja de Van Gogh, combined with the brain stimulus of the blues. We cross borders from Spain to Mexico and North Americawith “Why Why Why”, a frothy feet-moving confection that would be at home on the pop charts in any language. Whether we shuffle-play Mar Abierto or listen from beginning to end, each song tickles a different part of our brain and our muscles and our wanderlust.
By bringing the influence of Spain’s music, especially the Flamenco, rock-con-raíces and the trumpet, into the world’s burgeoning mashup of Latin/Latino/Norte Americano music, the Spain-born, Mexico-City-based Jenny and the Mexicats have both expanded this evolving genre and created a new one, as yet unnamed and not fully formed. Jenny and the Mexicats are speeding headlong into the exploding world of cláve and cajón andcúmbia, baile, torque and rock and rap and blues and jazz with a vibrantly innovative style that adds a new hue to the palate of global music. And they are so much fun!