Mariachi, arguably, is the Dixieland of Mexico -- it is Mexico's classic music, and mariachi was as seminal and vital to regional Mexican music as Dixieland was to jazz. Given Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán's importance to mariachi, it is most regrettable that they took so long to start recording; formed in 1898, Mexico's ultimate mariachi band went unrecorded until 1937. For their first 39 years, Mariachi Vargas was strictly a live attraction -- and in an ideal world, they would have been recorded exhaustively from the beginning. Spanning 1937-1947, this 70-minute CD boasts 24 of Mariachi Vargas' early recordings -- material that has great historic value in addition to being incredibly rewarding. The 1937 and 1938 recordings are without trumpet, which is exactly how Silvestre Vargas wanted it at the time; all he wanted in the '30s was strings and vocals. But trumpets became so popular in mariachi that, in 1941, he gave the public what it wanted and hired Miguel Martínez as Mariachi Vargas' first permanent trumpeter -- and Martínez's trumpet is a big part of the band's sound on the 1945-1947 recordings, which include well-known Mexican standards like "El Toro Viejo" and the instrumental "El Jarabe Tapatío" (also known as "Mexican Hat Dance"). Thanks to the art of digital remastering, these 78-era mono recordings are heard without a lot of noise -- and while this disc doesn't have the type of modern sound quality that an audiophile fantasizes about, it still captures the magic and vitality of Mariachi Vargas early in their long recording career. This is a jewel of a CD that no serious mariachi enthusiast should be without.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
feat: Silvestre Vargas