april 2008

Mando Saenz
Carnival Music

Inventively produced by R.S. Field, with captivating songs of both the self-penned and collaborative kind (with Kim Richey and Will Kimbrough, notably) plus inspired musical support from redoubtable musicians on the order of guitarists Kenny Vaughn and Richard Bennett, among others, Mexico-born and Texas-raised Mando Saenz makes his sophomore album a moment to remember as the true launching point for what should be a significant career. Building on the craftsmanship of his Watertown debut, Saenz locks into a captivating, unsettling mood from the outset of the ethereal guitars-and-tablas-driven soundscape of "Wrong Guy," a different kind of bitter kissoff number in which the narrator is less assured of having the last laugh than he is of his lingering, and searing, resentment. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, the guitar stomp of "I Don't Like It" evokes the emotional upheaval accompanying an enforced separation from a dearly missed paramour. Thus the paradox of Bucket: the light and the dark are barely distinguishable, and Saenz's songs illustrate how easily one can mutate into the other. Possessed of an unsteady sense of order in matters of the heart, Saenz sounds and phrases in the laconic manner of a backwoods Rufus Wainwright, not as overtly dramatic but every bit as bruised, yet always looking for a reason to believe. Saenz never fully emerges into daybreak: in Bucket's tender closing ballad, "Last Goodbye," amidst a lush backdrop keyed by violin and piano, he ponders whether to self-medicate himself into oblivion but in the next breath invites-nay, even welcomes—a return visit from his lost love. As Mickey and Sylvia observed long ago, love is strange.—David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024