Most bands, if they last long enough, get around to cutting an album of cover tunes at some point, and given that the Mavericks celebrated thirty years together in 2019, one could reasonably argue they're overdue. They're also better suited to the task than most groups, given their eclectic style and eager embrace of a wide range of material. 2019's Play the Hits finds the Mavericks playing eleven songs that were hits for other people, borrowing inspiration from the songbooks of everyone from Patsy Cline and Waylon Jennings to Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley. The warm, graceful tone of Raul Malo's voice has always seemed ready to take on anything, and he's in typically excellent form here, sounding sly on John Anderson's "Swingin'," heartsick on Freddy Fender's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," and full of nervy swagger on Waylon's "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way." And the musicians have no problem investing their own personalities into the material, with "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" sounding like something from Elvis Presley's Vegas period, Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" reimagined as a countrypolitan shuffle with Duane Eddy guitar, and tackling "Swingin'" with a deep mid-tempo groove while the ghost of "Wooly Bully" is visible in the background. Even when the Mavericks don't necessarily make the songs their own, they know how to perform them with a conviction that elevates them from the work of another cover outfit, in particular on the whisper-quiet take on Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and the weepy "Why Can't She Be You," made famous with a pronoun switch by Patsy Cline. The Mavericks have chosen wisely in terms of material and perform with a focus that's imaginative and playful. While the majority of all-cover releases feel like a holding action while the band comes up with new ideas, Play the Hits sounds like their music through and through, even if someone else wrote the material.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming