The 25 tracks collected on Vida Mia: 1934-1939 are not Lydia Mendoza's earliest recordings (which are available on an earlier Arhoolie compilation, Mal Hombre & Other Original Hits from the 1930s), but a slightly later batch that find the singer and guitarist refining and perfecting her early style. There are four early recordings with La Familia Mendoza, on which Lydia plays violin and doesn't sing, but the remaining 21 tracks feature her rich, earthy voice and magnificent 12-string guitar either solo or, on six tracks, with sister Maria Mendoza accompanying her on mandolin. Mendoza was only 18 when the earliest of these recordings were made, but she already exhibited the mastery of her instrument that made her a legend in Mexican-American music history. What's particularly fascinating about these solo recordings is how they reveal the polyglot influences of music in Mendoza's native Texas Hill Country: focus strictly on Mendoza's guitar playing, and it shows unexpected commonality with that of the Texas blues guitarists who were starting to get recorded around the same era. Vocally, Mendoza tends to sing in a deeper, throatier voice on these solo recordings than the higher-pitched, more nasal tone she adopted in her later recordings with her sisters. While casual fans might be more interested in the earlier Arhoolie compilation, which contains "Mal Hombre" and most of Mendoza's other early hits, Vida Mia: 1934-1939 is a solid and often fascinating supplement.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason
feat: Familia Mendoza