The Tequila Brass - Tamla Meets Tijuana [MFP, 1971]

For a while there in the Sixties Mexico was truly where it was at. Record label magnate Herb Alpert started a phenomenon that quite simply went beyond whipped cream and other delights.

Far from being just another exotic curiosity played by some token Johnny Foreigner to a discerning middle-class white audience, Tijuana stylings were simultaneously ice cool and red hot and opened the floodgates for Sergio and friends.

The first album I ever owned was “Something Else” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, which my mother won in a radio competition in 1968, and to this day the theme to Casino Royale says in-crowd to me like no other record can.

So who exactly are The Tequila Brass and why exactly are they messing around with Berry Gordy’s vision?

One website I browsed through said “critics give Johnny Rivera and the Tequila Brass a score of 0.0000 out of 4 stars”. Ouch. Note the decimal point there. Double ouch.

According to the 1966 liner notes for “Richard Davis and The Tequila Brass” they were the first and leading exponent in Argentina of the “California Sound”, which as far as I’d known previously either referred to The Mamas and Papas or the kind of laid-back jazz that Vince Gueraldi was producing.

And, not only is it a long way from Argentina to Mexico but the Brass seem to have gone through their fair share of front men before arriving at a Motown tribute. It’s a mystery to me.

Well as far as the Tijuana-lite canon goes I could easily have plumped for The Border Brass and Singers “Tijuana Christmas”, The Torero Band’s “Lennon & McCartney Tijuana Style” or even “Living Brass & Living Marimbas Play Songs Made Famous by Herb Alpert”.

I bought them all in a fit of madness and the last one actually makes my brain hurt just knowing that I own it.

But no: let’s stick to our Tijuana-flavoured Motown tribute in this 50th Motown year by way of a loving tribute. There’s a scene in “Semi Tough” when Robert Preston’s Big Ed throws a Christmas party in sunny Miami, complete with a Mariachi band playing carols and other contemporary hits.

And that’s exactly what “Tamla meets Tijuana” sounds like. It’s your parents’ summer barbeque in the early 70s where they want to appear a little ethnic-friendly but aren’t quite ready to embrace those pesky riots they’ve seen on the TV.

They aren’t quite ready to get down with Ol’ Mexico either – and this album takes care of that too. The nod to “Tijuana” consists of some horns. Not mariachi horns, just a horn section. It ain’t Detroit, but it sure as heck isn’t Latin either.

It swings just enough to get the party loose, but not enough for anyone to feel uncomfortable and have to start a real conversation with any sense of social conscience or gravity.

“A more exciting combination would surely be difficult to find” say the sleeve notes. Well, I can think of at least ten off the top of my head, but I seriously doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Suburban Swing would like them.

And yet, there’s something strangely comforting about this album. Maybe it’s just my nostalgic yearnings for a time when my parents actually did have summer barbeques that swung a little bit, but only a little bit. When the furniture was inflated and the wine was in straw covered bottles, when candles came coated in sand and macramé was considered an art form.

Sometimes excitement is over rated and sometimes Christmas takes place in sunny Miami. I have just the perfect soundtrack for those moments…

Sarah E. Edgson

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The Tequila Brass - Tamla Meets Tijuana