Los Pingüinos del Norte

Corridos de la Frontera

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Los Pinguinos del Norte played and plays a style of music commonly (or at least once commonly) heard by the working-class poor -- at several pesos per song -- in Mexican cantinas. Corridos de la Frontera was mostly recorded by Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie in 1970, and features accordionist-vocalist Rubén Castillo Juárez, guitarist-vocalist Hilario Gaytán Moreno, and bassist Ricardo Escalante. The "corridos" tell heroic folk stories about men, according to Rumel Fuetes, "who are liberal, individualistic, arrogant, and who have no fear of death." "Benjamin Argumedo" recalls the capture of the revolutionary hero of the same name, and how, when presented to General Murguia, he asks to be shot in front of "all the people." Although his request is not granted, he has made his point: he's a real man and not afraid to die. Simple arrangements adorn each of these songs, with accordion, guitar, and bass providing a waltz-like backdrop for the intertwining voices of Juárez and Moreno. Some of the stories, like "Luz Arcos," are filled with violent shootings, reminding one of an old Western. The easy cadence of the accordion, however, keeps these happenings from seeming too heavy or depressing. Indeed, it's not unlike listening to a Mexican version of "Tom Dooley" or "Pretty Boy Floyd." This is a collection both rich in history and -- for those who can't make it to a Mexican cantina -- enjoyable to listen to.

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