'The Living Legend' of Mexican Ranchera Music

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The man hailed as Mexico's greatest Ranchera singer, Vicente Fernandez, has a new retrospective collection hitting stores shelves on Tuesday. It's called The Living Legend. Musician and Day to Day contributor David Was has a review.

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DAVID WAS reporting:

Fifteen years ago, a writer at the Houston Chronicle called Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez the Sinatra of ranchera music, a title that makes sense on more than a few levels.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

It's musician and DAY TO DAY contributor David Was.

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WAS: They were both the avatars of their chosen style. Both parlayed their musical fame into a successful movie career, and both earned iconic status and nicknames commensurate with their achievement.

Sinatra, of course, was the chairman of the board, and Fernandez, el idolo de Mexico, the idol of Mexico.

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Mr. VICENTE FERNANDEZ (Singer): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

WAS: Now 66 years old and still going strong, a retrospective of Fernandez' work called The Living Legend is being released this week by Sony BMG. It collects three dozen songs on three CDs, from a catalogue of over 80 albums.

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Mr. FERNANDEZ: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

WAS: His love of music began in a small time in the state of Jalisco, where young Vicente took to the rural folk songs known as rancheras, born of a new national consciousness and a rejection of the colonial culture of Spain. The mariachi bands that accompanied the ranchero used the conquerors' traditional instruments: violins and trumpets and guitars, but the lyrics dwelt on the lives of the less privileged, the romantic passions, their patriotism, and their devout love of nature.

In one of Fernandez' songs, Se Vende Un Caballo, his horse even makes a cameo vocal appearance.

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Mr. FERNANDEZ: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

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WAS: While Sinatra comparisons reflect his immense popularity throughout Latin America, his vocal approach and legendary will to perform suggest another pair of American pop icons: Roy Orbison and Bruce Springsteen.

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Mr. FERNANDEZ: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

WAS: Like Orbison, Fernandez is a singer with the dynamic range and sonorous pipes one considers operatic in nature. And like Springsteen, he's known for performing until the curfew kicks in, and sometimes longer. Milking the audience like a stump politician, he would tell them in Spanish, (foreign language spoken) - as long as you keep applauding, I'll keep singing.

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Mr. FERNANDEZ: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

WAS: In a Hitchcockian twist in his fortunes, Fernandez assumed the throne of King of the Rancheros after the untimely passing of a series of his forbears: Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, and Javier Solis, leading him to remark that he was the youngest of the legendary singers, and also the oldest living.

And he's one of the best paid. He lives la vida buena on a 500-acre horse ranch. Fernandez may even invade the town that Frank built. Rumor has it he's planning on opening a casino in Las Vegas called Guadalajara, Guadalajara. Ring-a-ding-ding, mis compadres.

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Mr. FERNANDEZ: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

BRAND: The voice of Vicente Fernandez. His retrospective collection is out today in stores. Our reviewer is musician David Was.

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