Kolored Music was an impressive start for this Mexican-American pop group from San Antonio, Texas; their music has a joyous, unpretentious quality that makes every cut a treat. Basing their sound on the ’60s — there are traces of Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Box Tops, Monkees and, of course, the Beatles — the Krayolas stood apart from others sharing the basic pop impulse by using brass on seven of the album’s ten tracks. The horns never get in the way, but instead add a soulful edge to the sweet innocent voices. A consistently pleasing album.
A quarter-century later, the Krayolas came back together and began revving their engine, issuing a CD compilation of early singles and album tracks. The ingenuous enthusiasm of spirited youth and a diverse collection of vintage influences permeate the 16 tracks of Best Riffs Only; the benefit of relatively modern recording facilities and the knowingness of the new wave era that conveyed the Krayolas out of the garage make it feel timeless. Nothing here challenges convention or goes too deep into stylistic homage, but as a proud recollection of the quartet’s far-from-wasted youth, it’s a real charmer.
With their past properly honored, the Krayolas set about making some new music, and the following year came out with La Conqusitadora. Behind singer/guitarist Hector Saldana, now a staff writer at the San Antonio Express-News, the group (which includes his brother David on vocals and drums) laid a solid claim to modern relevance, forging a socially conscious regional rock sound whose dwindling debt to the ’60s is augmented by Augie Meyers of the Sir Douglas Quintet, who contributes three songs (“We’ve Got a Secret,” “Little Fox” and “What You Gonna Do for Love?”), keyboards and a tasty dose of irresistible Tex-Mex mojo. “Alex,” “Catherine” and the title track are standouts.
Long Leaf Pine (no smack gum) makes its predecessor seem like a transitional project; this album’s confidence and ambition pushes the Krayolas into a new artistic realm. With horns framing many of Saldana’s 13 songs (there are also tunes by Meyers and his colleague Atwood Allen), the disc goes from strength to strength, joining pointed commentary on injustice (“Corrido Twelve Heads in a Bag”) with stirring melodies and handsome arrangements. The many sounds of Texas flow through the music like a river, with norteño stylings jostling against ZZ Top chug, traces of sweet Buddy Holly pop contrasting roadhouse swing, country and jacked-up rock and roll. The ascending progression of “Hurtin’ Me Baby” simultaneously recalls “Eve of Destruction” and “Different Drum,” but that’s as derivative as the album ever gets. A fully mature songwriter in solid charge of his talent, Saldana flirts whimsically with cultural profiling in “Chola Song” and conflates romance with architecture in “A-Frame.” There’s even a brassy quote of “La Cucaracha” in “Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.” The pride of heritage crossed with unselfconscious awareness that every culture has its clichés makes Long Leaf Pine (no smack gum) a sheer delight of real consequence.