The banda boom of the '90s and 2000s brought an impressive amount of diversity to the brassy Mexican style. Some banda artists have incorporated tropical music (cumbia, salsa, bachata, and meringue), some have featured rappers, some have performed banda arrangements of R&B songs, and some have used banda for traditionally ranchera purposes -- which is pretty much what Jesús "El Flaco" Elizalde does on Corazón de Acero (Heart of Iron). Elizalde is not one of banda's more experimental artists; he doesn't rap, and he doesn't mix banda with reggae or hip-hop. Rather, Elizalde gets much of his inspiration from Mexico's ranchera tradition. That is not to say that Elizalde's choice of material rigidly follows what Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán were doing in the '40s and '50s; Elizalde isn't that old school, but his reverence for the ranchera tradition is certainly alive and well on tracks like "Fe Perdida" and "A la Vida." And Elizalde knows his way around a corrido; "Triple Lavado" and "El Sr. B. R." demonstrate how effective corridos can be in the presence of banda's huge wall of brass. On a technical level, Elizalde doesn't exhibit the vocal range of, say, Ezequiel Peña (one of the finest banda and mariachi singers of the '90s and 2000s), but emotionally, he gets his points across nonetheless. At the end of this 39-minute CD, Fonovisa surprises listeners with norteño mixes of three of the songs -- "Quien Fuera," the melancholy "Culpable o No," and the doo wop-influenced title track -- and after having heard so much brass on the ten previous tracks, those three bonus tracks sound downright minimalist. The norteño mixes are enjoyable, indicating that Elizalde's best course of action is embracing different types of regional Mexican music (including norteño and mariachi) instead of performing banda exclusively. Nonetheless, banda is the main attraction on Corazón de Acero, and Elizalde is well served by it.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson