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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: The Los Angeles band called the Bronx has been working the punk rock circuit for nearly a decade.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

THE BRONX: (Singing) (unintelligible), take my dead hand and bestow my heart. (unintelligible) but (unintelligible) 'cause you make me smart. Wired, you're so wired...

SIEGEL: And since 2009, the Bronx has cultivated an alter-ego as a mariachi band. They call themselves Mariachi El Bronx, and they're about to release their second album. Our critic Tom Moon says it's a lively and surprisingly kitsch-free take on a music steeped in tradition.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOM MOON: There really is only one way to play mariachi, even if you're a punk rocker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "48 ROSES")

MARIACHI EL BRONX: (Singing) Well, I've always been reckless and foolish with love. I'm always pushing my luck with (unintelligible)...

MOON: You have to mean it - right down to the last neatly chopped acoustic guitar chord.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: The members of The Bronx discovered this when they first started messing with mariachi a few years ago. Asked to do a song unplugged-style for a TV appearance, they rebelled by wearing sombreros and camping it up. Singer Matt Cauthran, who grew up in a Hispanic neighborhood in East Los Angeles, says they had so much fun they decided to try more songs this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REVOLUTION GIRLS")

BRONX: (Singing) (unintelligible) come on and take my hand. I know you're scared, but this tomorrow you will be a man. Follow me to the promised land, and I'll take care of you the way no other woman can...

MOON: Pretty soon, the members of The Bronx were hooked on mariachi. They pored over instructional videos, learned the nuances of the different rhythms and they listened to recordings of masters like Vicente Fernandez. This original is modeled on his weepy lovesick boleros.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS CHRIST")

BRONX: (Singing) Our bodies don't speak, they cry out like dogs, it's stretch towards the sky and scratch out the (unintelligible). Moments like this are stronger than love, feelings and stuff down from the balcony.

MOON: Mariachi El Bronx plays with more reckless abandon than the typical buttoned-down folkloric ensemble. But these songs follow the strict conventions of the form to the letter.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: When I heard the first Mariachi El Bronx record, which came out in 2009, it struck me as a bit of a clever gimmick. You know, dress a punk up in an elaborate Charro suit and watch what happens. It's different this time. Inside these tales of lost love and other tragedies, there's plenty of tradition but that's balanced by shots of pure joy and irreverence. And it turns out that makes all the difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BRONX: (Singing) The thought probably never crossed his mind. He feels (unintelligible) than kind. (unintelligible) his home now...

SIEGEL: The album is called Mariachi El Bronx II. Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BRONX: (Singing) He was born to leave. The bureaucrats, they're too far and wide. That's if the earth was empty. His holy ghost scurries coast to coast...

MICHELE NORRIS, host: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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