A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Aug. 3, 2012
Seeing Joe “King” Carrasco & The Crowns — the
original Crowns, by golly! — kicking off the Santa Fe Bandstand series
in July brought back a lot of memories from 30 years ago. But their
performance that night, as well as Que Wow, the new CD I bought after the show, was not mere nostalgia. Carrasco’s music is as timeless as it is fun.
in the day — the early 1980s to be exact — the group called this sound
Carrasco and the band seemed to come out of nowhere right
about the time New Wave was starting to fade. Elvis Costello had
repopularized the Farfisa/Vox organ sound a few years before (on his
album This Year’s Model), but Carrasco, keyboardist Chris
Cummings, and the others took it further, creating spirited music that
sounded like a joyful blend of The B-52s and Question Mark & The
Carrasco was just a gringo loco (born Joseph Teutsch in
Dumas, Texas), but his love for Tex-Mex music and Chicano rock in
general propelled his Nuevo Wavo sound.
Carrasco and The Crowns seemed to be everywhere for a brief moment. They played “Don’t Bug Me Baby” on Saturday Night Live. Later, “Party Weekend” became a staple on MTV. Carrasco was interviewed in Rolling Stone. After a chance meeting at a recording studio, he did a duet with (pre-Thriller)
And for a few years it seemed he was at Club West in
Santa Fe at least every few months. He was the one of the first national
acts, if not the very first, to play there, treating local folks to his
crazed, high-energy, hopped-up, crowd-surfing, wall-crawling antics in a
stage show that was part James Brown, part Sam the Sham, and part
Truth is, Carrasco and The Crowns became more of a regional
phenomenon. Here in the Southwest, we still loved them long after the
trendies and the mainstream forgot about them.
But at some point
Carrasco’s Santa Fe appearances became more and more infrequent. It
seemed as if he dropped off the face of the earth.
Actually, he moved to
Mexico, where he established a home base in a Tex-Mex restaurant/bar in
Puerto Vallarta called Nacho Daddy. That’s also the name of one of the
songs on Que Wow. (No, this bouncy ranchero featuring Carrasco’s dogs barking in the background is not an advertisement for the restaurant.)
started getting a little political in the mid ’80s with songs like “Who
Buys the Guns” (“that killed the nuns” completed that couplet; he lived
in Nicaragua for a while during that period). But a quarter century
later, if there’s any trace of politics on the new album, it’s so subtle
that I missed it.
A snappy little rocker called “Drug Through the Mud” opens and closes Que Wow,
the final version being a live one. Cummings’ electric organ plays
riffs straight off of “96 Tears” (Carrasco name-checks the Question Mark
hit in the lyrics). Meanwhile, another one of Carrasco’s chief
influences, the Sir Douglas Quintet, is righteously evoked in (at least)
a couple of other songs, “Havin’ a Ball” and the bilingual “Yo Soy
There’s an irresistible little polka called “Right On
Catcheton”; a Caribbean-flavored, Tiki-touched groover called “Vamos a
Matar El Chango”; and a sweet ode to Carrasco’s dog, “My Lil Anna.”
Carrasco reached back into his songbook for a couple of tunes here. Both
“Bandido Rock” and “Pachuco Hop” have appeared on previous albums, but
both are excellent tunes that deserve to be heard again. (On YouTube,
thanks to Santa Fe Music Video, you can find a good quality video of
“Bandido Rock” from the band’s appearance on the Plaza last month.)
you dug Carrasco’s show on the bandstand (or his subsequent shows in
Los Alamos, Taos, or Albuquerque), or if you missed him this time but
have great memories of his Club West performances, I’d bet you’d love Que Wow.
* The Angel Babies.
This is a band with New Mexico roots that rose out of a rough night of
“Unfortunately he was arrested,” the band’s bio says. But, inspired by
this experience, Medina and Salazar decided they wanted to make music
together as The Angel Babies.
Medina is a New Mexico native, born
in Santa Fe and raised in Española. I first became aware of him in the
late ’90s through his band Electricoolade, a cool little two-man show
that played a potent blend of power-pop and garage rock. After that, he
moved to Austin, forming a band called The Kill Spectors before The
Angel Babies took wing.
This self-titled album is a real sonic
pleasure. It starts off with what sounds like a Mexican folk song, with
Medina singing and playing acoustic guitar. But this song lasts only a
little more than a minute before a big throbbing electric fuzz bass riff
comes in, then some thunder drums on “Tone Deaf.”
When the guitar joins
in, the song sounds like a slowed-down Canned Heat boogie, except way
more ominous. Medina and Salazar’s harmonies here remind me of another
Austin couple from a previous era — Timbuk3.
What I like about the
The Angel Babies is that while they aren’t shy about using synthesized
sounds, they’re a rock ‘n’ roll group at heart. “Drugs Guns Hookers” and
the more upbeat “Red River Street” are upstanding examples of good
trashy rock ‘n’ roll performed through an electronic filter, while
“After the Party” sounds like a long-lost Prince song, perhaps from the Sign ‘O’ the Times
The album ends with a song, sung by Salazar, called “Angel Baby.”
It’s not the same song that the guy at the karaoke bar wanted. It’s as
pretty as it is dark.
Here's Joe "King Carrasco & Tye Crowns on The Plaza last month:
And here's a song by The Angel Babies