La Tuza, the only Mexican roots band in New England, released its debut album in the summer of 2009. On the album, the band has captured the energy of their engaging live shows thanks to the steady hand of engineer Ducky Carlisle (Susan Tedeschi, Mandy Moore, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter) and the keen ears of producer Brother Cleve (The Singhs, The Del Fuegos, Combustible Edison). The record offers a whirlwind sonic tour of central Mexican son: the African-influenced son jarocho of southern Veracruz, the lilting son calentano of the Mexican Hotlands, and the fiery son huasteco of the mountainous highlands of La Huasteca.
Son del Otro Lado” (“Sound from the Other Side”) kicks off with the band’s upbeat version of “El Colás,” followed by the classic Andalusian mermaid song “La Petenera,” which highlights the virtuosity of violinist Ana Lisa Portillo. Crowd favorites, the sensual “La Guanábana” and the bittersweet “El Gustito,” soon follow. Ducky’s tack piano helped evoke the sounds of the Mexican cantina on “Esperanza.” A single microphone stairwell recording of “El Guapo,” concluding the band’s three days in the studio, brings “Son del Otro Lado” to a playful end.
The musicians in La Tuza hail from Missouri, Texas, and Arizona, and came together in Boston over a shared passion for traditional Mexican music. “Son del Otro Lado” provides an exuberant introduction to Mexican son, a distant cousin of the more frequently-heard son cubano. La Tuza mines three different styles of Mexican son using the traditional instrumentation of jarana jarocha, jarana huasteca (both small guitar-like instruments native to Mexico) plus guitar, violin, cajon, pandero (Mexican tambourine), tamborita (the traditional drum for son calentano), marimbol (a bass-like descendant of the African mbira) and the quijada (donkey jawbone!). New York City’s leading son musician Gabriel Guzman (Radio Jarocho) rounds out the “Son del Otro Lado” sessions with huapanguera and leona (larger, Mexican relatives of the guitar). La Tuza not only steeps itself in old recordings and traditional instruments but also integrates new sounds into the Mexican son genres. Ana Lisa cut her teeth with mariachis along the Tex-Mex border, David brings an Americana sensibility, and Brian utilizes an arsenal of percussion instruments from around the world including the Irish bodhran and caxixi from Brazil.
La Tuza may be unique in New England, but they form part of a new generation of young musicians delving into Mexican roots music and bringing it to American urban centers far from its native region. While La Tuza has been performing at area hotspots the Lizard Lounge, Toad, Johnny D’s, and Club Passim since November 2007, this debut album officially welcomes Boston to a growing constellation of cities with a happening Mexican roots scene.