When the Mavericks blazed onto the country charts in the '90s with their fresh sound and grab bag of American, Latin and world influences, they were greeted like a breath of fresh air by fans and Nashville alike.
But the country music establishment likes only so much fresh air.
"When we came along, Nashville loved that we were bucking the system and all that," said Mavericks co-founder Robert Reynolds, who will appear with the rest of the reunited group at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace Thursday evening on a triumphant tour to promote the album "In Time," the band's first collection of new material since 2003.
"We may have gotten a little high and mighty," Reynolds continued. "So, suddenly, 'Well, hey, let's limit that success. Let's put a little governor on that for the boys.' They clipped our wings a little bit. We weren't playing the game, I'll assure you that, and that is the marker of who gets to stay and who doesn't get to stay and play the game. But you know, if the industry was bent on defeating all success, you wouldn't have Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, so I know it's not a Nashville-wide thing. It just happens."
But the band ended up being its own worst enemy, Reynolds said.
"In the old days, you had this singular sense of agenda, and after a while you're kind of lost in the fracas of it all. I don't want to sound like I'm boasting, but there are a lot of dangerous aspects to success with all the awards, money and stuff that starts getting thrown around."
It was in that climate of internal tensions and real or perceived industry brinksmanship that the Mavericks' creative spark burned out in 2004. After nearly a quarter century together and a string of hits, including "What a Crying Shame" and "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down," Reynolds and co-founders Paul Deakin and Raul Malo called it a day.
"To be honest, I thought we'd never make another record," said Reynolds, 50. "The fact that we did is testament really to the fact that there's a level of importance to this. That's a great way to start back with an agenda of a 'one band' focus and that is the music again and I think that reflects in the album."
Indeed, "In Time" defies categorization, just as the band always has. With Malo's Roy Orbison-worthy croon and Cuban flair, mixed with the rhythm section's vintage rock shuffle and Texas swagger, "In Time" feels like a creative continuation of the band's landmark 1995 album, "Music for All Occasions."
"We were these different guys with different influences," Reynolds recalled of the band's early days. "I grew up more on the Beatles than Tex-Mex records. I certainly know (Tex-Mex music icon) Doug Sahm and some of his music, but we do a blend of some pretty earthy music that's not only part of our American but also our South American and folk music cultures. At the same time, we haven't abandoned our British invasion passion. So, you'll hear some melodies creep into the songwriting and they may have more to do with the Beatles or Frank Sinatra, two pretty disparate places. Raul is a big fan of the crooners, as you can probably tell."
One thing the band's sound is not is country, but that was always an oddball designation for the Mavericks anyway. Too easy. Too dull.
"I definitely wouldn't say that it was country music as most people have come to understand country music even today. I think it would freak people to think if suddenly someone rewrote it all and said, 'this is country.' I think they'd all return their country records. We're definitely not delivering what the country people come to expect anymore. I think it's pretty special that we've sustained a cohesion that's survived."
During their years apart, Malo released six acclaimed solo albums, and Reynolds and the other remaining members stayed active in various endeavors, touring and recording.
But the time seems right to set aside their differences, Reynolds said.
"It's really rich, really good. It's not a flimsy, touch-and-go thing; it's quite fulfilling. The band has been performing better than it ever has. It's been really phenomenal."
Tonight's show marks the group's first appearance in Bakersfield since their Palace visit in 2004 (though Malo took the stage two years ago).
"Buck always treated us with such a really unique, loving, caring touch. He seemed to really care about the Mavs and always came out when he could. I'm told the last time he came to see us, he quite literally had not been out to see music in over a year at that time due to his health.
"Whether he was telling us about protecting yourself in the music business, publishing, or about him worrying about us having those motorcycles, which he did worry about because we did have those Harleys out on the road. Literally, with tears in his eyes would say, 'Boys, I just worry about those. You know I lost my best friend that way.' He meant it. It wasn't just a good story. It was the truth. That was the last time I saw him."