What happens when two Texan musicians raised in classical music and school choirs find themselves in a punk venue in Guadalajara playing for tacos and tequila. They write a song, “Guadalajara”, part of The Dank, a potent margarita of TexMex music served with a shot of blues in one of the best ALM debut albums this year.
Actually, the Dank’s story started in 2014, when guitarist/singer David Monnich connected with keyboardist/singer Jimi Morales in college and discovered that besides music they had in common a love for standing up and playing in front of people. So they formed what they called a boarder blues band they called The Dank and hit the road playing anywhere people would listen. People listened. And danced. And cheered. And demanded ¡Mas!
¡Mas! became constant touring in Mexico and the US. And It involved a move to the West Coast from Texas — to LA for David and to San Jose for Jimi. But despite 300 miles of California highway between them, The Dank band hung together and this month released the self-titled The Dank, a nine song album in English and Spanish that I think of as TexMex music with a shot of LA blues. The album pours the Tejano ingredients of polka, pop, rock, R&B, conjunto, ranchera, Mexican cumbia, mariachi, and corrido into a margarita blender with blues, story-telling and humor and a small army of collaborators from some of the best ALM bands in the business. Super producer Eugene Toale (who also plays sax and melodica on the album) threw the blender’s “on” switch and poured out the cocktails at just the right moment so that each song is “dank” – slang for strong and unique. And fun.
The album opens with the high tempo polka/norteno “Lupita” that pleads mostly in Spanish for the elusive Lupita to recognize that her husband – presumably the singer – is a hardworking man “Cumbia De La Comida” follows at a slightly slower pace extolling the food of Latino LA with lyrics like “The gallos are cluckin and there’s perros in the street/ They smell the sweet aroma of our carne asada feast” . You can’t help laughing as you dance and get hungry.
Then the music turns serious – sort of — in “Sister Dorothy”, a brass and keyboard-led rock song extolling a big-hearted social worker who saved them from a drunken stupor one night on LA’s Skidrow. They sing “god bless the homeless” and they put their hearts and money where their lyrics are by helping raise money for the La Casa Del Migrant organization which helps homeless migrants. “Texas”, delivered by Jimi in his raspiest sandpaper voice, tells us the story of the move from Texas to LA, landing “tired, drunk, and stoned” but “not gonna rest until they/ Name me the best poet in the land”. Could happen. “Dank Time”, the only instrumental on the album, starts out with an echo of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” led by a bongo beat, both addictive and fun.
But the fun really ramps up with “Guadalajara” the story of an ill-planned trip to perform in a what turned out to be a pretty rowdy punk venue in that huge city. With bongos, keys, violins Max Kim’s baritone sax sounding a lot like a tuba, Crisia Regalado of Sin Color providing operatic backing vocals, and Manolela Wunder on the violin, David Monnich reels out a story that ends with their learning they were paid not in pesos but in tacos and tequila, which is bad for the bank account but great inspiration for a song.
The final three songs on the album continue the musical fun but show the band’s range — it’s not all polka and bongos. “The Trimmer” is down and dirty blues; “Karma De Los Musicos” floats into the psychedelic with Evan Hatfield on the electric sitar, and “Joaquin Jackson” goes talking blues with a high tempo 4/4 rock beat colored Mexican with percussion accents to spin out the story of the bloody final stand between a legendary Texas Ranger and the jefe of a cocaine cowboy gang. There is nothing like it …it is dank!