In recent years the traditional music of Louisiana has captured the imagination of the D.C area, and traditional Texas music may well do the same soon. The signs were certainly promising Sunday night as the jampacked Birchmere cheered on the Texas Tornados, a band featuring the four giants of Tex-Mex music: Flaco Jimenez, Augie Meyers, Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender. Instead of Louisiana's two-steps and 3/4 waltzes sung in French and English with an accordion, the Texans played two-steps and 6/8 ballads sung in Spanish and English with an accordion; the rhythmic bounce and down-to-earth frankness of the Texas music proved just as infectious.
As the son of Santiago Jimenez -- the architect of conjunto music -- Flaco Jimenez is the C.J. Chenier of Texas, an heir to an imposing tradition. Flaco played his red-button accordion Sunday with an unassuming agility and grace that gave every song -- whether it was his brother's "Soy de San Luis" or "96 Teardrops" -- a crucial lilt. Meyers, who translated those accordion phrases to his Vox electric organ, is the Huey Smith of Texas -- the inventor of a signature keyboard sound. Meyers proved it last night as he played his staccato organ riffs for the old Sir Douglas Quintet hits "Mendocino" and "She's About a Mover."
Sahm was the Doug of the Sir Douglas Quintet, and he sang those songs with the same soulful grittiness of his youth. He's the Dr. John of Texas -- the Anglo enthusiast who became a master of the genre. The evening's highlights, though, came from Fender, the Aaron Neville of Texas. Like Neville, Fender brings a quivering delicacy and emotional intensity to ballads, and he did so again with "A Man Can Cry" and "If That's What You're Thinking."