Country music can thank our neighbors to the south for a lot more than tequila and blurry memories. Mexico has long offered up some of the driving influences behind country music: Since the early days of cowboys and their bandido compadres making music underneath the California and Texas desert stars, sounds and themes from below the border have followed country and Americana music into their modern iterations.
From Dierks Bentley's "Drunk on a Plane" to Toby Keith's "Stays in Mexico," there is no shortage of references to the country's sandy beaches and carefree escapes -- but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mexican influences in the country music world. The heritage of artists including Lindi Ortega and the Last Bandoleros brings a richness and variety to their music; going a bit further back, Linda Ronstadt's 1987 album Canciones de Mi Padre (Songs of My Father) is entirely comprised of Mexican mariachi music as a tribute to her Mexican-German father, and a game-changer in the country music world.
Midland don't have the Mexican roots of the aforementioned artists, but that doesn't hold them back from expressing their south-of-the-border side. The recently released Spanish-language version of their No. 1 hit "Drinkin' Problem" is one of several country songs that have been re-recorded in a multilingual format; Billy Ray Cyrus also released a special version of "Achy Breaky Heart" "en Español" in honor of the 25th anniversary of the song.
Read on to learn more about five artists who are drawing from Mexican influences and inspirations.
The Last Bandoleros' Hispanic roots run deep: Made up of brothers Diego and Emilio Navaira (sons of the charismatic Tejano star Emilio Navaira), as well as Jerry Fuentes and Derek James, the group released their debut EP in September of 2016 and have been building a strong fanbase ever since, pushing style boundaries all the way.
"It's our intention to push the boundaries of where the country genre is," Fuentes says in an interview with Rolling Stone. "Let's do edgy country, shake it up and bring Tex-Mex into country."
The Last Bandoleros signed with Warner Music Nashville in 2016, a big move for a band that doesn't quite fit the mold. Their genre-bending, Tex-Mex-meets-country sound has also earned them tour gigs with legends including Sting, where they bring their Tejano vibe to the stage in a country-rock format.
A native of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and of Mexican and Irish descent, Ortega's odes to her roots began in part with a character adopted by her husband, Dan Huscroft, while they were on tour. "Pablo" plays in Ortega's band and inspired a track on her album Liberty, a concept record that channel's her Mexican heritage in sound and theme with songs such as "Gracias a La Vida" ("Thankful for the Life") and "The Comeback Kid."
Then again, maybe artists such as these are just bringing country music full circle to where it started with mariachi influences in early honky-tonk tunes. Those vibes are still prominent in Marty Stuart's music these days: His 2017 album Way Out West captures themes of "Old Mexico" along with the throwback Mexican ranchera sound.
Trevino is a a Mexican-American country singer who doesn't stray far from his heritage. His 2017 album Long Coyote Gone pulls no punches in tackling immigration and racial issues. In fact, Trevino even tapped Tejano accordion phenom Flaco Jiminez for the song "I Am a Mexican," which spells it all out.
Watson's latest album is titled Vaquero, the Spanish word for cowboy, and its ninth and 10th tracks, "Mariano's Dream" and "Clear Isabel," tell the story of a Mexican lawman, Mariano, and his daughter Isabel, who flee the drug cartels for safety in the United States, only to discover a different kind of danger.
"We were all immigrants -- unless you were an American Indian -- we're all blessed to be in this country," Watson told The Boot in 2017 of the debate over immigration and border control, "but, at the same time, we need to have secure borders, which make us safe, and we need to quite allowing them to bring drugs ...
"It's such a complex issue, but at the end of the day, the problem is this: The left side and the right side, they both refuse to be respectful and acknowledge each other's point ...," he continues. "There needs to be love, and grace, and mercy, and compassion and understanding."