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Old's Cool 

Putting pre-radio Americana and Mexican roots-folk together at last

Wednesday, May 5 2004
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"Trad music with attitude" is the tag line of the "Crooked Jades/Los Cenzontles Cinco de Mayo Celebration," and we like the sound of that. The phrase describes the two bands to a "T," both the pre-radio Americana of the former and the Mexican roots-folk of the latter. Surely these kids aren't the first musicians to hear the similarities between the folk musics of their home and adopted countries, but it's rare to encounter a concert that puts them side by side.

Both acts' "attitude" shows up in their adamant rejection of all things modern, commercial, or otherwise newfangled. Luckily, they haven't gone off the deep end like some in the folk revival -- they do use amplification during performances (but only when needed: Those old instruments and singing styles make a heck of a racket on their own), and they have consented to be recorded on CDs. But a commitment to sounds developed on the front porch and in the back yard has earned these groups acclaim from purist critics and everyday people alike.

For Los Cenzontles, the touring group of the East Bay arts center of the same name, this means support from the likes of Mexican superstars Los Tigres del Norte and kindred spirits Los Lobos, and glowing reviews in publications from Sing Out magazine to Spain's El País newspaper. Performances feature dancers, vocal harmonies, and -- as is traditional for the sones jarochos, pirecuas, rancheros, and other styles the band plays -- an astonishing array of guitars.

The Crooked Jades, for their part, have printed up stickers crowing, "Old time is not a crime!" Fueled by bandleader Jeff Kazor's extensive record collection, the Jades are proud to bring old-fashioned music into the present. On its Web site, the group brags that its performances are "[k]nown for their rare and obscure repertoire."

So take that, all you pre-processed musicmakers blasting from the radio. Don't you know what happens to those who don't know their history? These musicians celebrate a great moment in Mexico's past by remembering it, learning from it, and making it their own. That's attitude.

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Hiya Swanhuyser

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