It certainly isn't unheard of for a regional Mexican singer to excel at both mariachi and banda; Ezequiel Peña, just to give one example, is widely regarded as an expert in both areas. But the way in which Lupillo Rivera compartmentalizes mariachi and banda on his two-CD set El Rey de las Cantinas (The King of the Bars) is truly a rarity. Both CDs contain the same 11 songs in the same order, but while disc one is mariachi-oriented, disc two offers banda arrangements (some of which incorporate norteño-style accordion -- although the brassiness of banda isn't compromised a bit). It isn't surprising to hear Rivera excelling as a banda vocalist; he's well known for his banda (and norteño) contributions. But this 2005 release marks the first time the Jalisco-born, Los Angeles-based singer has recorded with a mariachi band (el Mariachi Internacional de Mexico), and his performances of familiar Mexican gems like José Alfredo Jiménez's "Que Suerte la Mia" and Vicente Fernández's "Las Llaves de Mi Alma" demonstrate that he is quite comfortable in a mariachi setting. With the album's artwork, Rivera seems to be stressing that exploring mariachi doesn't mean he's giving up banda or norteño; some pictures show Rivera wearing a giant sombrero (a look associated with mariachi bands), while others show him in the vaquero (Mexican cowboy) attire that is more typical of banda and norteño artists. One look is Mexican in a classic, old-school way; the other is Mexican in a more modern way. Rivera has a lot of albums he can be proud of, but El Rey de las Cantinas is easily one of his most essential releases and is recommended to anyone who has even a casual interest in his contributions to regional Mexican music.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2