Personnel: Lorenzo "Lencho" Reyes Fraire (bajo sexto); Pablo Molina, Luis Muños (tuba); Luis Ricardo Arce Guevara (tambora).
Recording information: Estudio Luz Records Mazatlán Sinaloa.
Photographer: Blasius Erlinger.
Gerardo Ortiz established himself as one of the most notorious narcocorrido singers of the alternative corrido movement while still in his teens and became a regional Mexican music superstar in the process. He began to branch out on 2012's El Primer Ministro and its follow-up, 2013's Archivos de Mi Vida, adding rancheras, cumbias, and mariachis to his hardcore sound, and his fans followed him -- both records hit the top spot on the charts. On Hoy Más Fuerte, he teams with the veteran producer Manuel Cázares to deliver 26 tracks -- on a single album -- that expand his sound even further. While the last five tunes are either banda or mariachi versions of album tracks, there are 21 new songs. Many were written by Ortiz, such as the chart-topping single "El Cholo," but he and Cázares also selected tunes by a group of excellent composers including Virlan Garcia, Julián Marcado, the team of Joss Favela and Luciano Luna, and more. The set's opener, "Fuego Cruzado," was penned by Garcia, and is one of the set's finest cuts, marked by a dark, swirling accordion and rumbling electric bassline. The gorgeous waltz "Millones de Besos" was penned by La Firma's Aaron "La Pantera" Martínez; it's startling because though its bassline runs almost counter to the time signature established by the accordion, drums, and bajo sexto, Ortiz's soaring, rich baritone holds them together and keeps it all in the groove. The horn chart on Ortiz's banda cum cumbia "Empieza a Olvidarme" is one of the most colorful of his career. Likewise, the near Caribbean tinge in the romantic "Contigo," another cumbia, offers another portrait of Ortiz's growing ambition as both songwriter and arranger. (He did have help here and elsewhere from Julio Lizarraga, who also assisted on Archivos de Mi Vida.) The reading of Macario Quintero's corrido "El Jicote," though modern, has a classic 1960s flavor, but Ortiz's cascading accordion runs challenge the rhythm section members to add fills of their own. Julián Marcado's "Tony," with its jarring rhythms, changes time signatures between verses, adding dramatic effect to the melody and the poetic lyrics. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Hoy Más Fuerte is that it never stands still. Though all of this music is accessible, hummable, and danceable, Ortiz never stops challenging the listener to meet him on this new level. Throughout the album, he redefines traditional song forms without once disrespecting them. His singing is stronger, his band's playing is dazzling, and with Cázares in the producer's chair, he's unbeatable as an innovator. ~ Thom Jurek